BRING BACK THE GAME
Anna and I basically spent a month in Asheville, NC this summer. We returned to Georgia a few days ago, and while we were glad to get home, as we got out of the car, we were met with the suffocating heat that I still have not become acclimated to even though we have lived in Middle Georgia for over 30 years. Every plant in our backyard had dried up and only the belligerent squirrels had survived the summer’s inferno.
We had a great time in Asheville. We visited our friends Jesse and Mary. We had a picnic at Dave Ballard’s farm. We went to Dollywood and made a quick trip to Morgantown, WV and Pittsburg. We took in a concert and Sliding Rock in Pisgah Forest. We enjoyed the Carter family reunion with all of Anna’s relatives, and, on my side of the family, had two wonderful meals with our McConnell cousins.
We always enjoy having our children and grand children and in laws come to the mountains to visit. This year almost all of them were there and they seemed to enjoy themselves. We unexpectedly hosted our son in law, David Sams, and his’ brothers and their families when their family reunion in West Virginia was interrupted because of the terrible floods in Greenbrier County. The Sams clan is fun loving and were great to be with.
One of the things we always like to do in Asheville is going to see the Asheville Tourists play ball. The Tourists are a class A farm team of the Colorado Rockies. I actually have been a Tourist fan since at least the 1960’s. My mother, before me, was also a baseball lover and she used to tell me stories of seeing Babe Ruth play exhibition games there when she was a girl. The ball park, McCormick Field, is one of the oldest parks in the nation and was renovated a few years ago. It is a great place to watch a baseball game. The park is nestled on a little plateau that sits high up on a hill just about a mile from downtown. The outfield fence separates the park from a sharply sloped wooded mountainside. Back in the day, the fence did not exist and a batter had to “make” his homeruns that he hit up into the embankment.
Because flat land is limited in Asheville, McCormick Field is, in baseball vernacular, “cozy.” It is only about 300 feet down the right field line. They have a big, wooden wall on that side of the outfield that is an easy target for line drives. There is even a “Bull Durham” type target on the wall and if a batter hits it the crowd is rewarded with a prize of some sort. There is always silly but enjoyable entertainment between innings and the tee shirt gunman is an easy target for booing if a shirt doesn’t come your way.
” On a cool clear evening under a dark blue sky, the field, lit by both the towering man made banks of halogen lights and the God made lights of a full moon and twinkling stars, may be the best place on earth to enjoy the national pastime. I always get a beer and a hotdog when I go. I tell Anna that somewhere in Bible it says you have to enjoy these traditional treats at every game.
At one of the games this summer a strange thing happened. The batter hit a sharp ground ball into the hole between short and third. The third baseman tried to cut the ball off but couldn’t make the play. The shortstop played the ball from almost on the outfield grass and fired a bullet to first. The ball and the base runner arrived at first base at, what seemed to be, exactly the same time. The first base ump didn’t see it that way and called the runner out.
Almost as soon as the young base runner, who believed he had beaten the throw, crossed the bag and heard the out call he turned around and charged the ump. The first base coach jumped in to protect his player from the wrath of the equally young umpire. Suddenly out of the dugout roared the manager and before all of the hysterics were over the manager had been dispatched from the game. The crowd loved it. They cheered as their ejected leader fumed his way to the clubhouse.* Eventually, the game resumed. After all of the hubbub, the base runner was still out even though the ump probable got it wrong
Why is this unusual? Well, since the advent of instant replay in Major League ball, this type of dustup that we were all familiar with, has disappeared from the game. Now after a close play, the runner returns quietly to the bag where he perches himself nonchalantly and carries on a friendly conversation with the opposing first baseman. The manager kills some time while one of his assistants determines whether or not to appeal the call. If he decides to appeal, three umpires gather in a huddle, someone puts on a set of headphones and, after what seems to be an eternity; someone in New York arbitrates the matter. In the mean time, the crowd has gone for concessions, and if you’re watching at home, it’s a good time for a bathroom break. Totally boring. I don’t remember a manager being tossed this year on any major league game I have watched.
If there are any young fans of baseball left, they will never get to see the likes of Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, or Bobby Cox at their best. Chewing out the umpire, kicking dirt on the plate or hurling a ripped out base into the air like a Frisbee to make their point. The next night, all of the parties involved were friends again -until the next disputed call.
We are not going back to the good old days in the Major Leagues. I know that. But maybe if the powers that be had to make the replay choice again, they would choose color over accuracy. No game is ever going to be called perfectly, but in striving for perfection, baseball has become so sterile that it really isn’t as much fun to watch as it used to be. Especially when your team is 30 games below .500 and will lose 100 games this year.
If you are in a town with a minor league team this year, take in the game, I recommend it. The hotdogs are fresh, the beer is cheap, the seats are great, and you might actually get to see a real baseball game- even if the ump did miss the call.