Calling the Pen: Trying to figure out why the bug for baseball disappeared - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Trying to figure out why the bug for baseball disappeared

Once upon a time, I shared the same feeling many of you who come to this website have about baseball. Playing it, talking about it or watching it were all important parts of life in the summer for me while growing up.

Back then, breakfast was cold cereal and intense examinations of the box scores in the morning paper to see who set the table from the leadoff position, who provided the power from the cleanup spot, who added the unexpected from the bottom of the lineup by getting on base and scoring or by knocking in the late-inning run that would prove the difference between a win and a loss.

Afternoons included three-on-three baseball games on a hot and dusty deserted diamond. In those games, the infielder threw to the pitcher for a putout at first base. Batters called left field or right, with balls not hit to the designated field ruled foul balls. Three fouls after two strikes meant a strikeout.

After dinner, there was baseball on the radio. We withheld our commentary until the commercial breaks between innings so we didn’t miss anything.

Now, I don’t miss it. I don’t know why. I don’t know when it happened.

Last month, I found myself leaving a Frederick Keys game after the home team failed to score in the bottom of the sixth inning of an eventual loss to the Wilmington Blue Rocks. I left my seat, walked out of the ballpark and happily found no traffic to battle exiting the lot.

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Years ago, I could never imagine leaving a game before it was officially over.

I must confess, I did walk out early once before, for reasons that had nothing to do with the quality of the competition or the weather.

It happened during a wonderful baseball road trip to the Midwest one summer several years after I graduated from college.

The trip began with a White Sox game on Sunday night and a Cubs game Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, we saw the Cubs at Wrigley Field in the afternoon and the Sox that night.

The double play helped us get through the next day, when there was no baseball.

Thus fortified, we drove to Wisconsin on Friday to check out the Class A Madison Muskies of the Midwest League, a farm team of the Oakland Athletics before the days of “Moneyball.”

Walking into the Warner Park, which had been built only two years earlier, we were struck by the number of fans carrying cans of Off, the familiar household insect repellent.

The size of the cans, far bigger than we were accustomed to and which have grown to be that of oil cans in my memory, should have warned us.

A closer look at the cover of the game program, with its aerial view of Warner Park and nearby, as in very, very close, Lake Mendota, may have also warned us that we would soon be under constant aerial attack from swarms of voracious mosquitoes.

But we were oblivious.

Perhaps we were distracted by the home team’s “Go, Fish, go!” cheer by fans who flapped and clapped while keeping their wrists and elbows together.

They could have been encouraging future big-leaguers such as Terry Steinbach, a Minnesota native fresh off a stellar three-year career at the University of Minnesota during which he drove in 165 runs in 156 games and hit .375.

Luis Polonia, who would also eventually make the big leagues, would hit .307 that summer, good for fifth in the league.

In the dugout of the visiting Burlington (Iowa) Rangers was outfielder Ruben Sierra, a future all-star in the majors. Back then, Sierra was an 18-year-old kid from Puerto Rico in only his second season of professional baseball in the States.

I don’t know if any of them played that night. I don’t know who won.

I didn’t keep score, instead using my program in a futile attempt to protect my exposed arms and legs. After several innings, bitten and beaten, we gave up and left.

Less than 10 years later, the Muskies left Madison and moved across state lines to become the Western Michigan Whitecaps.

I am still waiting to be bitten by the baseball bug, though I seem to remain a target of hungry mosquitoes.

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.

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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