October baseball has me in a sentimental mood. I see there are four games on today. At one point in my life, particularly if I had some free time, this would be very exciting. Maybe the best day of the baseball year. Alas, I don’t have the youthful enthusiasm I once did and my excitement is more a memory of my excitement than something I actually feel in my bones.
At the same time, it stirs recollections of particular moments as a baseball fan that I’ll never forget.
The first game I was to attend was rained out. Jarry Park. Probably 1973. Steve Renko was to have pitched. It was a name that sounded as cool as Steve Austin.
The Cincinnati Reds are the oldest team. 1876, if I remember right. There was an unwritten understanding for about a hundred years that the baseball season’s first game would open in Cincinnati. The first pitch would be thrown in Ohio. That changed when the Blue Jays disregarded the tradition for marketing purposes. One year, in 1996, I was excited to watch the Expos on opening day, playing Cincinnati. The first pitch would have been to a Spo.
But before the game, the veteran umpire, in his 26th season, collapsed and died. John McSherry. It was believed to be the first fatality on a major league field since Ray Chapman was struck dead by a pitched ball in 1920. To this day, I feel guilty about how much I was disappointed that the game was cancelled rather than being distraught that a good man died on the field.
I once caught a foul ball at Olympic Stadium. In September of 1986. There were few fans there and it might have been the last time I saw Andre Dawson (my childhood hero) in an Expo uniform. I didn’t catch the ball so much as picked it up after it stopped rolling. But to tell this story in a bar, it was the greatest bare-handed catch of all time. I can’t recall every friend I was with that day. But I know one for sure. His name was Jeoff. And we lost him this year. But I’ll always remember watching Expo games with him. And I gave the ball away to another friend a few years ago. It meant more to me as a gift I could give than a gift I had received.
In many ways, baseball has been like a best friend to me. Or a closest family member. My memory began with it, my youth was excited by it, my adulthood was disappointed by it and ultimately, as I grow older, as we grow older, we’re old friends who are so familiar with one another that we can go years without speaking and yet we still know each other like an old man’s hand knows the feel of his ball glove.
I’m gonna watch a little baseball today. I’ll think of the Expos, I’ll think of that poor umpire. I’ll remember Vin Scully, I’ll remember my father, and I’ll remember my best friends. It’s going to be a good day.