Decades ago, to the chagrin of many old-timers, professional football surpassed major league baseball as the “National Pastime.”
Indeed, George Hendrix, the unfailingly charming, retired patriarch of the Both, Branch & Hendrix Insurance Group, tirelessly tried to stop me from being swallowed up by the allure of the NFL.
He even signed me up for a baseball newsletter and, in this space several years ago, I chronicled some of his trips to various major league parks around the country.
My intent was to convince him the fact I covered the Bills effectively married me to pro football both professionally and emotionally, but that baseball was still my girlfriend.
AND I’VE been very much reminded of that the last 52 days – but who’s counting? – since the coronavirus stopped the major league schedule before it was even scheduled to start.
Undeniably, I miss it, mostly because of its unique pacing.
In sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer, the frenetic speed and action commands the spectator’s attention … and that’s hardly a bad thing.
Baseball is different … there’s a period of inaction – sometimes dramatic – until the pitch is delivered and a myriad of results can unfold.
Rarely do I watch a game, end-to-end, unless it involves the Dodgers, at least until the postseason. But it’s the backdrop of my spring and summer.
Few things are more comforting than writing at home with a major league telecast for company … a quick glance at the screen quickly catches you up even if you’ve been distracted.
Several years ago, my daughter offered an unexpected observation. Somebody questioned why anybody would listen to a regular season baseball game in the car. Jamie, hardly a fan, countered that one of her favorite childhood memories was snuggling in the back seat during a trip and hearing the soothing play-by-play voice of a major league announcer.
IT’S NOT true any more, not in this era of apps and web sites where the internet instantly alerts fans to what’s happening in a game. But there was a time when that message was delivered live via radio.
How I became a Dodger rooter, I don’t know. My father wasn’t a sports fan, but I seem to recall my mother liking Brooklyn. What’s certain is, when I adopted that team, she was all in.
Growing up outside of Albany, I was only 2½ hours away from New York City and the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. But we never went there to games. The link to my team was a transistor radio … a device virtually unknown to current teenagers.
For me it was a blessing, a tiny megaphone from the baseball world that ran on batteries with transistors replacing cumbersome tubes.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, it made little difference to me, other than the time-zone change. Back then, major league broadcasts tended to be on 50,000-watt, clear-channel radio stations which had tremendous range at night.
With only 16 teams – eight in each league – following the Dodgers in games under the lights was fairly easy. Hiding the radio under my pillow, to avoid being caught by snooping parents, I listened to broadcasts from Philadelphia (WCAU), Pittsburgh (KDKA), St. Louis (KMOX), Cincinnati (WLW) and Chicago (WGN).
The only night games I missed – there was no interleague play in those days – were when the Dodgers played the Giants – no 50,000-watt station reached from coast-to-coast – or, oddly, the Braves, whose directional outlet in Milwaukee couldn’t be heard in Eastern New York.
THESE DAYS only when I’m in my car do I listen to games on radio. Few of those clear-channel stations are major league flagships any more. Baseball doesn’t generate enough income to make it profitable for them, especially with regional sports networks siphoning off many of those advertising dollars for telecasts.
For me, even as a lifelong Yankee hater, I watch more of their games than any other team – including the Dodgers and Red Sox. I know their roster as well as those of Los Angeles and Boston, because New York’s games are so readily available on TV.
As for the Dodgers, when I want to see how they’re doing in a game that’s not televised locally, I pull up ESPN.com on my laptop and find out everything I need to know, right down to the kind of pitch, its location and velocity.
Still, a part of me misses that trusty transistor.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)