Calling the Pen: Baseball's appeal makes perfect sense - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Baseball’s appeal makes perfect sense

Having enjoyed games at a variety of major and minor league stadiums, none with a dome, it seems to me that, more than any other sport, baseball offers something to delight all five senses.

After all, baseball’s venues offer some spectacular sights. What fan can forget the first time they saw rich, deep colors of a big league infield, like that at Camden Yards, with the brilliant green natural grass framed by blinding white foul lines and smooth brown dirt?

The image’s lasting power perhaps gets a boost from that fan’s fading memories of the games of their youth. The rich colors of the present offer a stark contrast to the past, when the grass was more beige than green and the basepaths on the forlorn diamonds near the local elementary school campus featured numerous ruts, stones and bicycle tread marks. Those were days when there were only enough players for five to a side and half the outfield was ruled out of play.

Hot dogs taste better at a ballgame than anywhere else. They taste even better during a doubleheader in Chicago. A dog in a steamed bun meant lunch for a day game at Wrigley Field, when the visitors’ game-winning home run ball was tossed back onto the outfield, and then for dinner that evening at Comiskey Park.

String cheese, like that hawked by vendors in Milwaukee many years ago, is an acquired taste best left to those in Wisconsin.
Popcorn may have been popped days (or was it weeks?) earlier then stored in huge plastic bags somewhere in the concrete bowels of cookie-cutter venues such as Busch Stadium in St. Louis. But it is easier to enjoy on a summer evening than it is during a Sunday afternoon in the fall.

Of course, a baseball game can only do so much. Even the setting of a minor league stadium in Charleston on a warm summer evening in South Carolina could not make a bag of boiled, yes boiled, peanuts, palatable for a visiting family from Maryland.

Thankfully, baseball stadiums from Chattanooga (Tenn.) to Glens Falls (N.Y.) offered the aroma of roasted peanuts. When mixed with the smoke from meat cooking on a grill, it’s truly an olfactory feast.

Settling in to watch the home team Missions and star infielder Adrian Beltre on a hot Texas night in San Antonio, or in Springfield, Illinois, where the Cardinals’ stadium is named in honor of hometown Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts, a mentor for Oriole Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer, there is a welcoming feel of a wooden seat worn smooth by countless fannies. On those cooler nights in the “Land of Lincoln,” it’s even better when the seat still holds the warmth from the day’s summer sun.

And there is something unique about the sound of a baseball stadium. It’s a low, steady murmur made by thousands of voices engaged in all manner of conversation. Arguments about the best at their position/the best in the league/the best of all time mingle with calls for a cold beer and fervent cheers for the batter to deliver a hit with a runner in scoring position.
In Frederick years ago, there was giddy optimism about the potential of Orioles’ top draft pick Ben McDonald as the 6-foot-7 Olympic gold medalist took the mound for the Keys.

Oriole fans of a certain age should remember the unique pops that echoed around an emptying Memorial Stadium after a game as paper cups that once held soda or beer were smashed by a perfectly placed foot.

In Charleston, a group of high school students stood on the aluminum bench and sang the instrumental theme song from Hawaii-50. In perfect unison, they pantomimed swimming out to catch out a wave and then balanced on their aluminum bench seats as if it were an imaginary surfboard.

Later in the game, as the home team, led by future Cleveland Indians infielder Carlos Baerga, mounted a late-inning rally, the group’s teamwork shattered the rhythm of the visitors’ relief pitcher. They provided a silly soundtrack to each of his warmup pitches, calling “D-U-W-O-O-O-P” as the ball traveled to home plate and “d-u-w-o-o-o” for the catcher’s toss back. After four or five pitches, the reliever threw one in the dirt in front of the plate. The crowd cheered.

There has not been much to cheer about with the Orioles this year. But there will be more next year. I can sense it.

Keith Meisel spent more than 30 years in community journalism. In that span, he won nearly a dozen first- or second-place awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association in categories ranging from features to sports columns to headlines. For nearly 20 years, he was sports editor for eight weekly newspapers, coordinating local coverage of high school, college and pro teams. During that time, the Cardinal Gibbons High School graduate covered two of the three former Crusaders who played on Super Bowl champions and four Olympians, three of whom won gold medals. One of his few regrets in a career rich in experiences and satisfaction was that a commitment to cover a local diver competing in the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival meant missing the chance to see a highly touted 18-year-old infielder who had just graduated from Miami’s Westminster Christian School. Before his relationship with Jennifer Lopez, that infielder had a pretty good career in the major leagues. Yes, it was Alex Rodriguez.

Editor’s Note: I was fortunate to spend the final years of my 30 with The Sun working with its community newspaper group. It gave me a deeper appreciation for their skills and their commitment to serving readers who, in many cases, were their neighbors. It meant a lot when Annapolis 10 Mile Run director Bob Cawood honored the five Capital Gazette victims with a moment of silence before the start of the Aug. 19 race.

Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.

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