THE ROAR OF THE CROWD


I like baseball. I know, I said that last year in October during the World Series. I have liked baseball since my father placed a wood bat in my hands and told me to hit the ball he tossed to me, and then run like heck for first base. My father was a Yankee fan, and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio was his man. Listening to the games on the family Philco, I memorized the stats so I could impress him. I played sandlot ball whenever the neighborhood boys let me in, but I never made the first team. I had frequent dreams of hitting a home run with the bases loaded, but they were only pipe dreams. Living as we did, in many places across the country, we never actually went to a game together, but my Dad often fit one in when he could.

Alameda was a baseball town and turned out a few stars of the game. Joe Kaney, Bob Wuestoff, and Don “Ducky” Pries made baseball their careers, whether in playing, coaching or scouting.

October always gives me a thrill, when the best of the best struggle for supremacy. The crowd’s roar, the steely eyed pitcher working out what his pitch will be with the catcher, who is squatting like a silent toad behind home plate, giving pre-arranged finger signals to the pitcher. The tension builds. The moments during this silent exchange must be agonizing for the batter, wondering what his fate will be. This is a time for confidence, but does he feel confident? The pitch is a slider, and the batter swings and misses. Do that a couple more times and you’re out. There are so many pitches, and so hard to anticipate which one you will get.

Watching a game on TV can be nerve-wracking too. Your team is behind, it’s the top of the ninth, the bases are loaded, two outs, the batter, whom you don’t like very much anyway, has two strikes against him, the pitch is thrown, and he strikes out. It’s like a deflated balloon.

I remember visiting my parents during a World Series game many years ago, and the game was on TV. My mother, who was the least likely to sit and watch a game, was watching intently and making knowledgable remarks. I don’t suppose I should have been surprised, given my Dad’s interest in the game.