Hey! It’s baseball season.
Here in Florida we’re bidding your teams farewell as they head home where they belong. The same is happening in Arizona. The games that don’t count are over. Minor-leaguers whose names you’ve never heard are on their way back to bush-league ballparks and bus rides. The veteran pitcher who hoped to catch on for one more year is headed home. He says he’s happy for more time with his family but down deep he’ll miss the game.
Spring training is over. It’s time to start keeping score.
But that’s only one small part of the Great American Pastime.
For five years, I worked as an usher for the Kansas City Royals, an adventure you can read about here. I learned that we baseball fans have more invested in our game than fans of other sports. Sure, football fans get hyped up every Sunday, but baseball… it’s different. One-hundred-and-sixty-two games. Day after day after day. Six months. The NBA season lasts as long, but has only half the games. Baseball fans grind out their season alongside their favorite players. Our highs aren’t as high, nor are our lows as low, but we’re fine with that.
Because we have the memories.
C’mon, admit it. You have them. It doesn’t matter what team you root for; whether they’re perennially good or usually terrible. You have memories. If we were sitting on my patio and I asked you to describe your favorite baseball memory, you’d likely have trouble coming up with just one. I posed this question dozens of times to Royals fans at the ballpark between 2011 and 2016. Some answered immediately. Others needed an inning to think about it. Most shared more than one memory - the first World Series in 1980, the World Champions of 1985, Freddie Patek roaming the middle of the diamond, George Brett’s batting crowns, Bo Jackson climbing the wall, the return to glory in 2014, the second championship in 2015. They also recalled the time they met a favorite player. Maybe it was beside the dugout before a game. More likely it was in the produce aisle at HyVee.
My favorite baseball memories are many and spread over forty-five years. They were born in 1972, the year I fell in love with the game, and continue unabated today. They are big and small and important and unimportant. And, in one long paragraph, here are just a few.
Learning to figure a batting average, my first major league game (Orioles vs. Tigers, 1972), my first favorite player (Johnny Oates), writing letters to players asking for their autographs and getting signed postcards in return, Strat-O-Matic baseball, my dad cutting his leg while trying to catch a foul ball in Philly, watching Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series homerun from the hospital, Eddie Murray’s rookie season, trying not to cry while watching the Orioles and Yankees play the night after Thurman Munson died in a plane crash, watching the 1977 World Series with my new college friends in Kentucky, spilling a plate of nachos trying to get out of the way of a Jack Clark homerun in Busch Stadium, Harry Carey yelling, ‘Cubs Win!’ My daughter, Alison finding a foul ball under her seat in the upper reaches of the ballpark where balls were never hit, Opening Day with my brother in 1999 (Kansas sang the National Anthem), any game I went to with my kids, having my son Cody call Robin from Kaufmann Stadium and somehow convincing her she was talking to George Brett when it was really me (she screamed), our family of six in the all-you-can-eat seats.
And of course, the memories from five years of great fans and co-workers at Kauffman Stadium could fill a book. Maybe another time.
So, as we race toward the 2017 baseball season, I’ll ask you… what are your favorite baseball memories? I hope you’ll share them below or on my Facebook page.
Take me out to the ballgame…
Take me out with the crowd…
Anyone who chooses to write for a living, even an unknown like me, gets asked at one time or another where book ideas come from. I can’t answer for anyone else, but for me they pop up and grab me when I least expect them. Something triggers a thought; the thought gets turned over and over in my mind, and at some point, I realize there’s a story.
On my desktop right now are five story ideas in various stages of development. One is almost half-finished and will be in your hands this summer, I hope. It’s about a one-armed man in a dead-end life who decides to run away from home and become somebody else. His name is Pete, and lately he and I are spending a lot of time together.
Then there’s Dusty, a one-hit disco wonder from the 1970’s who won’t accept the fact that he’s been old news for thirty-five years. You’ll meet Dusty in 2018. Another project is about Mitzi. She and her husband own the Imperial Diner and are huge baseball fans. Their life-long love for each other and baseball will be the object of Mitzi, The Imperial, and the Boys in Blue, also due out in 2018. Also in the works is a Harvest of Thorns sequel many of you have asked about, and a book about a vigilante preacher that is pretty dark.
Then there’s Shunned, which debuted today. Have you gotten Shunned yet? Pastor Miles Traynor, Shunned’s antagonist, came to me after reading about the fall of a megachurch pastor out west several years ago. I won’t use his name or the name of his church, but you can find them online easily enough. The preacher’s downfall came when he started believing more in himself than he did in God. One thing led to another, and the church he started asked him to leave.
Some people have that one place they call home. They spend their entire lives there. They know everybody and everybody knows them. Part of me has always envied those people. With so much uncertainty in life, they have one less thing to worry about. That must be nice.
Others are like me. Life sent us off to chase dreams in faraway locales. Since leaving Maryland forty years ago, I’ve lived in ten communities. The smallest was Clarksville, Missouri, population 400. The largest was Kansas City. Each had its own uniquenesses and peccadilloes. But for me, each, while wonderful in its own way, fell short of feeling like home.
Except one - Perryville, Missouri.
You might have heard that Perryville was hit by a tornado last night. At least one person lost their life. Homes were blown away, including those of some long-time friends.
But you know something? Perryville will bounce back. I’m as certain of that as I can be of anything, because I know the people of Perryville. They care about each other.
I know that because, in 1982, I moved to Perryville. I knew nobody – zilch. The house I lived in was large, and I didn’t have enough furniture to fill it. I also didn’t have a refrigerator or stove. For the first six weeks, I got by with a Styrofoam cooler and a camp stove that blew the circuits every time I turned it on.
I didn’t have much money, either. I arrived in late-July and discovered it would be September before I received a paycheck. It was going to be a stretch, making it two months on what seemed like pocket change. Then, one morning I found a pot of soup on my front step. Ground beef vegetable. No name or any way to identify who left it. More soup appeared a week later. And the week after that.
Then, I heard about something called the Seminary Picnic. “You ought to go,” people said. Why in the world would I want to go to a seminary picnic? The name conjured up images of nuns eating deviled eggs under a tree. But you know what? I went. Arriving at the picnic grounds, I was greeted by a sign. Beer Garden – Left, Food – Right. Beer at a seminary picnic? A large tent advertised something called kettle-cooked beef. The price was cheap, so I went in. When the ladies in charge discovered I’d never heard of kettle beef, they loaded me down. Several helpings and a large pot to take with me. Despite having almost no money, I found myself gaining weight in Perryville, Missouri.