TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME
By Frank R. Satullo, owner of OhioTraveler
I believe baseball is the greatest sport of all time. On the surface, there’s the game, but to real fans, there are layers to the game and at its core, there’s an inside game that is fascinating.
It isn’t so much the action that compels me but the anticipation of action. Sure in the modern game, casual fans cheer the towering home runs but to me the most beautiful play in the game is stealing home.
Imagine the pent up intensity. The eyeballing of every micro move from pitcher, catcher, third baseman, base runner, third base coach, on deck circle, dugout, umpire and even fans on top of the action in the box seats down the third baseline. As the runner inches down the line and retreats, as the pitcher eyes him and then the plate and him again, voices aloud, voices in the head, the tension builds to the moment it just can’t be contained. The pitcher goes into his windup and the runner breaks for the plate as if someone just shot him from a canon. This is the action after the suspense but it also builds new suspense. For the next three seconds time slows to a crawl and everything is vivid. All five senses dance to life. Sound – silence. Sight – red. Voice – breath. Touch – sweat. Smell – dirt. The play at the plate is going to be close. The third baseman shrieks. The fans gasp and then are dead silent. The pitcher panics after releasing the ball and charges in on the plate as well. The catcher now knows what’s barreling down the line and has to hold his position and wait for the ball. The runner decides his approach – take the plate wide and reach in or try to knock the catcher into the stratosphere. Then, everything speeds up again and in a flash of lightning, ACTION! It is over as soon as it started and the dust is everywhere. Everybody is frozen. More suspense. More anticipation. SILENCE. Then there it is; the culmination of the most beautiful thing in sports. “SAFE!”
I grew up learning about baseball from my Dad and Grandpa. My Grandpa moved to Cleveland from Sicily when he was 7-years-old and probably never missed an Indians game, win or lose. If the team did poorly, he was a spectator of individual achievements like a perfect game or a rare sight like the triple play. Nothing beats seeing feats live. The ESPN highlight reel is a poor substitute for totally unexpected live phenomena.
My favorite memory of baseball, growing up, was when Dad took Grandpa and me to old Municipal Stadium on the Lake Erie shore. Grandpa kept a scorecard. This is another great treat of baseball. Scoring a game on a card is better than taping the game in my mind. There’s an account for most every movement and each scorer develops a style of their own to mark things like how hard or where a ball is hit and other subtleties of the game. It’s a mind opener. Anyway, Dad went to get some foot longs and I sat there with my little league glove next to Grandpa who was pushing 80. I heard the crack of the bat. I saw the ball coming closer. Closer. CLOSER. We were in the upper deck down the third base line. When that ball whizzed directly over my head I yanked back my outstretched glove because I wanted no part of it. The thing looked like a basketball at that moment. I shook Grandpa afterward and screamed “Did you see that!” He grunted, "See what, see what?” He had no clue what just happened. Little did he know that was the moment I became a die-hard fan of the game, the Indians, and Cleveland sports.
Dad started me on my baseball card collection. He would get a pack and I would get a pack (with his money). We kept our collections separate. Then one night he gave me his box of cards. I was stunned. Then I became an addict. I got a paper route to support my addiction. I’d go to the ma and pop convenient store at the edge of our neighborhood in Avon Lake and use all of my paper route money whenever I got paid and buyout the supply of cards at the store. Then I’d sit in the parking lot with a friend and go through each pack like it was Christmas morning to see what was there. I’d give him the gum that came with each pack. After a while, I grew tired of getting triples and quadruples of certain cards and wrote a letter to Topps Baseball Card Company asking if there was a way I could just buy one of every card they made that year. I was delighted to receive the news that I could buy the complete set for something like $50. It got expensive when other companies appeared in my consciousness like Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck. I loved my Oscar Gamble and Toby Harrah cards and missed getting doubles or triples of those cards.
It’s funny, but I don’t remember any of my childhood friends or classmates being Cleveland Indians baseball fans. Maybe it was too painful to admit openly. When Pat Corrales was manager, I was in 10th grade. The Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an essay contest – “Why Do You Like The Indians?” By this age I was reading the sports section daily so I was all over it. And I won! I think back and wonder if I was perhaps the only one who bothered writing an essay. None-the-less, the prize was “dinner with the Indians” and a free ballgame. “Dinner with the Indians” meant I got to eat lunch with a friend at the stadium for the first stop of the winter press tour. Only the manager and a couple players showed up to talk to the room full of reporters and afterward, I got to wait in line and shake some hands. But when we got there, Mom dropped us off and my buddy and I walked in.
When we entered the room we scanned it for a place to sit and this booth, center stage and next to huge windows high above ground outside, had our names on it. Not really but we knew it was ours! Until some lackey in a suit scrambled across the room to us as some old guys and their entourage entered. He said we couldn’t sit there. We said we could. He demanded we move. I said I won the contest. He looked dumbfounded and by this time, the old guys were standing there too. One said “What seems to be the problem?” The scared looking man (lackey) sounded like he had diarrhea of the mouth so I explained. The old man in charge said, “You boys have a good time” and left us to the enormous booth while he and his entourage pulled tables and chairs together. Later he was introduced as Gabe Paul, General Manager of the Cleveland Indians. The other old guy was assistant GM Phil Seghi. Say what you want about those men and how they handled the Indians, but in that brief moment they taught me the success of selflessness in the world of business. On the way out, my friend and I shared an elevator with a rising star named Pat Tabler. He had a giggling girl under each arm and had become a bigger hero of ours than just a moment earlier.
When I returned from overseas after spending a few years in the Army, I lived at home for the summer and decided to coach little league baseball. My old coach was a legend in Avon Lake youth sports and he gave me the opportunity. At 21-years-old, I was able to share my favorite pastime with a new generation. But it was also an eye-opener into the underbelly of youth sports. First, our team stunk. But we did win some games and eventually made the playoffs. But the early part of the season grew frustrating, not for me, but for some of the parents. They wanted me to make their kids into little Rick Mannings or Sandy Alomars. Then one game, a father that always sat at the end of the parent line near shallow right field with a cooler sprang from his lawn chair and charged the umpire (who was only 17-years-old). He was spitting, cussing, and when I finally got my shocked body out there to diffuse him, I was shocked again for the potent smell of alcohol was in the air all around this nut. The commissioner later had me contact the nutty father to notify him he was banned from coming to any other games.
My Dad and I drove to downtown Cleveland to watch the progress on Gateway’s construction when I came home from college. Gateway was the name given to the complex downtown that would house Jacob’s Field, new home to our beloved Tribe.
When I began my career, Major League Baseball went on strike just when the Indians were legitimately competing for the first time in my life. Jacobs Field magic or carryover from the curse of Rocky Calavito? The following year we went to the World Series and my wife became a fan of the Tribe even though she grew up far from C-town. As players from that year did the modern-day shuffle from one team to the next, my wife would track their careers and tell me how Tavarez was doing or Sorrento. Another World Series in 1997 and my wife learned what “The Drive,” “The Fumble” and “The Shot” felt like. Only this time it was one word – “MESA!”
When the Indians fell back out of favor and we were clearly rebuilding, I took my, then, four-year-old daughter to a game. I gave her the whole experience I grew up with. We got on the Rapid Transit and she loved the train ride. A man plopped down in the seat in front of her and she laughed and pointed and said very loudly, “Dad – look, that man has a comb stuck in his head.” Having survived that uncomfortable event, we walked to the stadium. Then she said, “Dad look, Indians.” And so there were, Native-Americans protesting Chief Wahoo. By the way, my Grandma was a full-blooded Delaware (Lenape). My Dad is half Lenape and half Sicilian. But we respect everyone’s convictions and right to free speech so we chatted a bit and went inside the gate.
I don’t give my kids a lot by today’s standards but I flat out spoiled my daughter on this day. Program – yes. Hot dog – yes. Peanuts – Yes. Cracker Jack – yes. When I tried to show her how to keep a scorecard – NO! Then after all this and three innings, she saw the cotton-candy man and I knew instantly this was her moment that would forever make her a fan. One section over, she followed him with her eyes. Then she asked questions about this strange sight and knew she had to have cotton candy. Half an inning later she was twisted backward thumping my shoulder without looking as she panted, “He’s coming Dad. Dad here he comes.” So I decided to make her earn this treat and said that she had to get his attention to come down here or she’s out of luck. She asked how to do it and I said just yell “Cotton Candy Here.” And she did! LOUDLY and REPEATEDLY. She handled the entire transaction herself and when she was done, like she needed it, many in our section gave her a standing ovation.
Gone are Thome, Belle, Ramirez, Lofton, Visquel and in were a fresh batch of kids making noise. In 2007 I found myself far away from the shoreline I called home. But a business trip brought me back for a night. My Dad and I watched the Tribe win a huge ALCS game against Boston putting us one win from another World Series. It was a special night I’ll remember; just the two of us watching the game alone in his family room, cheering, reminiscing, analyzing, talking, and having the time of our lives. When I returned home, my son met me at the door donning his Sizemore jersey and Wahoo cap eager to share something he learned to sing at school – “Take Me Out To The Ball Game …”
Now, as I've said at the beginning of each season since I could talk, "Maybe this year." And as I've said at the end of each season, "Maybe next year."
You can start your great American family pastime all over Ohio at Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Toledo Mud Hens, Akron Aeros, Lake County Captains, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Columbus Clippers and Dayton Dragons. For those that want a fascinating look at the history of the game, visit Ohio Village Muffins, read Baseball Anecdotes, or rent the 10-pack DVD set – Baseball.
By Frank R. Satullo, The OhioTraveler
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