Writing Out Loud: PLAY BALL!

By George Stahl

It was a World Series to remember! October 7, 2001. Yes, October folks. The New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks were squaring off in game number one of a seven game series. The seventh game being forced by the D-Backs, who tied the series in game 6. The World Series that year had a late start, which has happened only three other times in baseball history. One of those times was due to World War I in 1918. Another, a player’s strike got in the way and the third late start just because there was no world series in 1908.

Seven weeks after the Twin Towers were attacked, baseball was the shot in the arm the country needed. The game featuring a team from New York was just what the doctor ordered. On the opposing side, a brand new, just-getting-their-feet-wet team from Arizona. Arizona had never had a major league baseball team, and this one was one to be reckoned with. They proved this as the underdog in the series against the more well-seasoned New York Yankees, a legendary team with as many myths behind it, as it had larger than life players. The Diamondbacks went on to win that year, 4 games to 3.

Over the years, baseball has proven to be the Great American pastime that never quits! Since it began with Alexander Cartwright bringing together two New York based teams, the New York Nine and the New York Knickerbockers at a field in Hoboken New Jersey in 1846, baseball has become synonymous with being an American. Sort of like apple pie. It is played everywhere there are kids to pick up a bat. Sandlots across the country are transformed into baseball diamonds every summer, and all of the neighborhood kids have a glove, a ball and a bat. Most of them can name their favorite team, best player to be and best position to play. There isn’t a kid in this country that cannot tell you who at least ten ball clubs are and no less than two of their starting lineups. From those makeshift ballfields to the streets of Brooklyn where stickball rules the burrows to the sanctioned Little Leagues throughout the nation, baseball is much more than a pastime; it is a true American institution, and everyone is a member!

For over 170 years, the game of baseball has been taking American kids, as well as adults of all ages, on a journey that has brought a tremendous amount of joy, pleasure and pride to anyone who has ever attended a baseball game, and even more so to those lucky enough to have played on the diamond. It’s kind of like a variation of Dr. Feelgood’s snake oil. Once you have tasted it and have held a bat in your hand and heard that distinctive cracking sound it makes when it connects to a well-placed pitch, you are hooked! Putting on a baseball glove for the first time and then each time after that, catching a baseball is an addiction. It is also a remedy.
When we were kids, and our friends suggested getting a game of baseball up, that was all it took for us to set aside anything else we were doing. It’s baseball! The mowing could wait, the car could be washed anytime, and of course our rooms didn’t need to be cleaned, not right then anyway. It’s baseball! That was the excuse to end all excuses. It was like saying, “Come on, it’s Sunday, time for church.” That sandlot was a cathedral, and we were responding to higher calling.

When those terrorists struck America, they really thought that was going to end us. They underestimated the American spirit and our resolve to be survivors. Apparently, they also didn’t factor in our interpterion of America. September 11, 2001, was one of the most tragic days in American history, and the tremendous loss of life was staggering and heart-wrenching. Their lives were all honored yesterday, and will be held in the highest of esteem forever. The heroes of 9/11 were also honored across the country, and their sacrifice and willingness to help is an inspiration.

Another group of heroes has to be those 18 men who took to the field those seven weeks after the tragedy. They were playing in the shadow of something that blackened the day, but because they chose to not let tragedy win out, they played a World Series that will forever be one of the greatest seven games in baseball history. Those men were made up of all nationalities, all backgrounds, both ethnically and socially, and they all came together in a show of unity and trust and love that will never be torn away by the terrorist acts of a group of international cowards.

As the home base umpire, veteran Steve Rippley, shouted, “Play Ball!” just after the national anthem was sung, it was reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt’s call to “Charge!” at San Juan Hill. America will not be deterred, from outside attackers or from those within, and baseball will be that constant that helps keep us together, transcending all barriers of age, race, religion and economic, and we all get our turn at bat! Swing away!