On baseball, Beatles, Kate Bush — heaven help us

On baseball, Beatles, Kate Bush — heaven help us

Here’s what passed for baseball spring training when I was in high school: running stadium steps in the snow on Saturday mornings.

Speaking of silly sports alliterations, what’s up with “Hoosiers?”

I happened upon that treasured basketball movie late the other night and was taken aback by the preponderance of the letter “H.”

Let’s just start with the title … that’s one.

Now consider the stars: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper ... that’s three more. Couldn’t have been an accident.

Then stir in the name of the school, which is Hickory High.

That’s two more.

Add in hardwood, hoops, hopes, heartache and hard work and you start to wonder, “What in the ‘H’ was going on when they made that movie? Did Howard Hughes finance it? Did the soundtrack feature Herman’s Hermits? Was Howard Hawks the director?”

Hey, hold on … I seem to have strayed from my starting point.

OK, yes, stadium steps in the snow. I remember now.

If there had been any justice in the sports scheduling back then, baseball would have been played in the fall, but that was football season, the behemoth of the scholastic/athletic calendar, the money-maker, the Goliath, the be-all and end-all, the Alpha and the Omega, all of it coming together on apple-cider Friday nights.

Pep rallies … bonfires … cheerleaders … a marching band … the concession stand … programs … the PA announcer … newspaper and radio coverage … and, most importantly, butts in the bleachers.

Baseball, by comparison, offered very little in the way of creature comforts to those who chose to take in a game. There was no fan-friendly experience to offer, no fanfare, no frills, just wind-blown afternoons when it was a chore to stay warm. Heck, the field we played on didn’t even have an outfield fence. Just imagine that.

I mean a field with no fence was the ultimate insult. When I was a kid, my friends and I carved out our own diamond on a vacant lot, and we felled trees, cut them into posts and strung rope from one to another, creating our own physical dimensions to the playing field.

No fence … might as well have shot baskets with no backboard or gone bowling with no gutters or played ping-pong without a net. But as I said, baseball — particularly the jayvee variety — was buried near the bottom of the high school totem pole, way, way down there with the chess club, had we had one of those.

But I loved the game, even when the coach — for reasons that eluded me then as they do now — required us to show up on Saturday mornings in February to run the stadium steps, up and down, up and down, up and down, in near-freezing temperatures.

In years to come, I’d get the chance to work with the man who was behind that bit of baseball logic, so I asked him one day, “Why’d you have us run all those stadium steps in the dead of winter?”

His answer made perfect sense.

“Because the basketball team had the gym that day,” he said.

Running never made a lot of sense to me, anyway, seeing as how most of baseball revolved around anticipation, positioning, being ready for what might happen next. I mean you couldn’t steal first base and pitchers didn’t exactly run the ball over the plate.

The problem with baseball was — and remains — its reliance on thinking, not doing, until it was time to act. It’s all subtlety: a half-step extra leading off first, the catcher framing an outside pitch to lure the ump into calling a strike, the batter glancing toward the third baseman, calculating the chances of laying down a good bunt.

But nuance rarely makes headlines. These days it’s all about the 3-point shot and the 70-yard touchdown pass, the 350-yard drive and the 220 mph lap at Indy. There’s no call, really, for a perfect throw to the cutoff man, who fires a strike to the plate in time to cut down the runner, not unless there’s a brutal collision.

I don’t want to go off on a rant about how the new rules baseball will implement this season — all of which are aimed at reducing the length of games and bringing in a younger audience — stink to high heaven because I know that ship has long since sailed.

It reminds me of the way Apple Records called in Phil Spector to remix the Beatles’ “Let It Be” sessions and how he ruined classics like “Across the Universe” and “The Long and Winding Road” with a schmaltzy array of tawdry studio gimmickry.

Some things are best left in their original state — not to be trifled with — sort of the way I’ve always viewed my writing, though you could find any number of editors who would beg to differ with me.

So where does that leave us? Standing in the falling snow, staring up at those stadium steps just after dawn on a Saturday morning.

Sometimes, to quote Kate Bush in the ethereal “Running Up That Hill,” you make a deal with God, swap places, with no problems.

And then you hurry happily, hastily, hoping your heart holds up and hustle back down, thinking, “What the 'H' just happened?”

Mike Dewey can be reached at CarolinamikeD@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where pitchers and catchers are reporting.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load