"... The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball. As a rule, people think that if you give boys a football or a baseball or something like that, they naturally become athletes right away. But you can't do that in baseball. You got to start from way down, at the bottom, when the boys are 6 or 7 years of age. You can't wait until they're 14 or 15. You got to let it grow up with you, if you're the boy. And if you try hard enough, you're bound to come out on top...." from Babe Ruth's farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, April 27, 1947.
In middle-class St. Louis of the 1950's we were believers. We believed in God, country, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Only the latter ever let a boy down.
We did, as everyone in the world knew, have the unconquerable Stan "the Man" Musial. If only baseball wasn't a team game. The Man would have won us the Pennant every year, if baseball were a one-man enterprise. The Cards usually finished fourth (or fifth) in an eight team race.
In those days Major League Baseball (the only sport I knew of) had two leagues which included nine teams -- eight of these were in the National League; the other, the New York Yankees, made up something called the American League. The National League team which won the most of 154 games played the Yankees in the WORLD SERIES! Once in a while the Yanks would let someone else play in the SERIES, but not often. After all, without the Yankees we could not justify stopping school to watch the (day) games.
Probably it was because the Cardinals never won the Pennant that spring training became my favorite part of the baseball season. I once had an opportunity to talk with the late Harry Carey, longtime announcer for the Cardinals. I thanked him for making every spring of my childhood such an exciting, hopeful time. I'd hear his unmistakable voice and hope bloomed again in the hearts of all St Louis boys. Every spring he'd lead us in believing this was the year the Cardinals would win the WORLD SERIES!
When we moved to Indiana in 1996, I resolved to be a fan of our Colts and of the Chicago Cubs, the St Louis equivalents having inflected a childhood of disappointments.
You may recall that in those days it took some determination and dedication to root for the Colts (i.e., pre-Manning).
It took no fortitude to become a Cub fan. The Cubs never disappoint a boy, unlike the St Louis nine. You never expect the Cubs to win, they never do, and you can't be disappointed with the results. When they do win it's a bonus. Even when they got to the playoffs they didn't fail us. No one electing to remain sane hoped they'd win, so faith was kept by all.
Last Saturday was the first televised Cub's spring training game for the 2010 season. Play-by-play came via Len and Bob, the best sports announcers in the biz. The Cubs lost (oh, hum) to some guys calling themselves the White Sox. Apparently White Sox also play in Chicago? Must be an American League thing?
It was only an expedition game, sure. But, baseball is back! The Babe is not forgotten! The Man Lives! Len and Bob are on the air! It's spring! There's hope! Maybe this year! The only real game in the world, I think, is baseball (at least in the spring).
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.