This week has been a rough one. But, that holds true most weeks these days. On the news, on Facebook, on Twitter, everybody rants, typing in all caps. Give it a rest every now and then. Watch a game of baseball. That worked for my husband, Steve Orlandella. He would get upset about whatever. But, he could breathe again once the Red Sox began to play. That worked for Mother, too. She watched Braves games on television as long as she could sit in a chair. Once she became bedridden, she listened to games on a transistor radio until she died. It worked for my grandmother, Mama Dorough. Her good friend growing up in Royston, Georgia, was Ty Cobb. They played catch together down the street.
Steve’s book about baseball – THE GAME – is excellent. People who love baseball and who knew Steve and his knowledge of the game need to have this book on their bookshelves. It’s my favorite. I know how much he loved that game. That love is pervasive throughout this book.
This is what he writes at the beginning:
“Most baseball fans can tell you the moment when they first fell for the game. My lifetime love affair began when I was not quite six years old – at a very special place.
It all started on a cold, dreary day in the summer of 1985. By then I had seen most of the historic landmarks and monuments in my town. I had toured Paul Revere’s house, walked through Faneuil Hall, paced the deck of the USS Constitution and stood where the Minutemen made their stand – the hallowed ground of Lexington Green. Heck, my grandmother lived in the shadow of the Old North Church. There was only one place left. Having seen all the shrines to American Independence, it was time to see the shrine to American Baseball. “The Palazzo Yawkey.” Fenway Park.
My father got tickets, and off we went to what was then 24 Jersey Street [now, 4 Yawkey Way]. The tickets were not a tough get. The era of 900 straight sell-outs was twenty years away. I remember like it was yesterday – walking through the tunnel, into the light, seeing that flawless field and the “monstrosity” in left. They had me at ‘hello’.
It was a dreadful day. Thunder, lightning, both games rain delayed, and the home team losing both ends of the doubleheader to “Jungle” Jim Rivera and the White Sox. [Rivera, a family friend, had dinner at my grandparents’ house two months earlier.] Halfway through the second game, my father asked me if I wanted to leave. I refused. Even then, I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
What did I learn that day? First, hot dogs taste better at the ballpark. Second, my father knew a lot about baseball. And last but not least, I learned the name of the tall, thin fellow playing left field, Theodore Samuel Williams. I can still recall my dad saying, “watch him, he’s the best.” [When you are six years old, you believe your father knows everything. In this case, he did.] So, I watched, and on that day, I saw the sweetest swing I will ever see and the greatest hitter who ever lived. [The Obsession was born.]
Fast-forward 28 years. It was my first season producing and directing baseball. After you have spent a season traveling with a ball club, you can take most of what you think you know about the game and chuck it out the window. The whole thing is amazing. The Ringling Brother’s Circus, packed aboard a chartered jet instead of a private train. Hitting streaks and batting slumps, shut outs and blow outs, late buses and later luggage, knuckle balls and fast balls, hotel bars and [on occasion] Gentlemen Clubs, RBI’s and ACL’s, double plays and double steals, kids chasing autographs, and women just chasing, San Francisco on Wednesday and New York on Thursday, past balls and wild pitches, Scully and Torre, Jaime and Pepe, breakfast at 5am, dinner at midnight, and the cities. Walking down to the Ohio River in Cincinnati, or over from the excellent light rail in St. Louis. “Baseball spoken here.” The wonderful Herald columnist Mel Durslag said it best, “In the summer, when the weather is right, it all sings.”
He was talking about Fenway, but it also plays at Safeco and Wrigley. My sister worked her way through college at the Union Oyster House in Boston. She observed when “the Sox were in first place, the customers left bigger tips.” (Obsession enhanced)
So, this is our game, and it belongs to all of us. I think about my high school pal Joe Klinger, five hundred miles from Chavez Ravine and his beloved “Bums.” My friend Cathy Karp, enduring being two thousand miles from Wrigley Field and her “Cubbies.” Joe Buttitta, who lives twenty-five hundred miles away from 161st & River Avenue, and his [Damn] Yankees. I think about myself, three thousand miles from the “Jewel in the Crown” that sits at 4 Yawkey Way. And about my dear wife, preparing for another season of “sturm und drang,” secure in the knowledge that, in this whole wide world, her only rivals are 25 guys in white cotton and grey polyester. The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell titled his magnum opus on the game, “Why time begins on opening day.” Well, Boswell had it right. It does indeed. Hope may not spring eternal, but eternal hope arrives every spring. If you haven’t guessed, I am a Red Sox fan. I was destined to play center field in Fenway Park, but as the result of some horrific pre-natal mistake, I got Fred Lynn’s body and he got mine. That said, I shall try to retain my objectivity and treat the teams and players fairly, even [may God help me] the Yankees. As the man not in uniform [the umpire] would, say “Play Ball!”
“I see great things in baseball,
It will take our people out-of-doors,
fill them with oxygen,
give them a larger physical stoicism,
tend to relieve us from being
a nervous, dyspeptic set,
repair those losses
and be a blessing to us.”
– Walt Whitman
THE GAME is all baseball. It includes stories, essays, jokes, history, and more as seen through the eyes of a man who spent his entire career in sports television. In 1993, he became Producer for Dodgers Baseball for nine seasons. He won Golden Mikes, Associated Press Awards, and two Emmy’s. He cared passionately about the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and baseball. Few writers have captured the essence of the game better than Steve Orlandella.