Children are the most amazing people on earth. No matter how dire their circumstances, no matter how bleak their daily life, hope rises up in them like an indomitable wellspring. Even in the early 20th century, before child labor laws, this was true. We have seen the poor little rag-a-muffins in movies, dirty, poor, and running through the streets. Yet, they still found things to smile about, still full of hope. Real hope. Not the hope of an adult; a big house, a high-paying job, or nice clothes. The hope of a child is just the simple hope that this year the Brooklyn Dodgers will go all the way.
You remember the image, a group of boys facing a fence, looking through a knothole to watch their heroes “play ball.” Sometimes, they would make a human-pyramid to reach the knothole; with the boy on top yelling out a play-by-play, (I often wonder how many of those boys grew up to be radio sports announcers).
Ponce De Leon searched Florida for the fountain of youth, when all he really had to do was wait a few hundred years and see a baseball game. Baseball has that effect on men (and many women) young and old, rich and poor. Baseball takes us back to our youth, stick-ball in a big city street, sandlot ball in a small town, and sidestepping cow-patties on your way to first base in a cow pasture in the country.
When I was a kid, Palatka had one of those old ball stadiums; the big wooden ones with the over-hanging roof like the ones in Eight Men Out, A League of Their Own, and The Babe. Speaking of the Babe, Babe Ruth once played a game in our stadium, and I can remember standing at home plate with a bat looking up at those bleachers and thinking to myself, “The Babe once stood at this plate and looked at those bleachers.” Years later they tore down those bleachers of course, but in my memory I am still that little boy looking over my shoulder and I can still see the bleachers just as the Babe did.
My idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon was a freshly mowed yard, a lounge chair under a shade tree, and a ball game on the radio. When it was raining, I would watch the game on TV, turning off the sound, and listening to the game on the radio. Next to a baseball radio announcer, all other sports announcers are just amateurs. Life went on for me like that until about twenty years ago.
I turned my back on major league baseball, no games, TV, radio, hats, pennants … nothing for over twenty years. I still like minor league games. It gave me great pleasure to take my father-in-law to his first baseball game (the Columbus Clippers) when he came to the United States to visit us.
Why twenty years ago? That was the year the multi-millionaire players and the multi-millionaire owners robbed us of a world series because of their own greed. The millionaire players went on strike because they wanted more money, and the millionaire owners said no because they wanted to keep more money, it seemed obvious to me their own greed was more important to them than their fans. I guess they forgot that the reason they were so rich was because of those fans. Anyway, if they did not care about us, I did not care about them.
Life has been going on like that ever since. I have not thought one bit about those greedy so-and so’s, not until this week. This week I saw a newspaper on a break table. Below the fold was a heading that I just had to read. I read an article by Paul Elias and it re-sparked something in me, it is just a tiny spark; but, Paul has shined a light on a path for me. Maybe that path won’t lead anywhere, but maybe, just maybe, that path is my path to my fountain of youth.
What is the great revelation this associated press sports writer gave to me? The San Francisco Giants. When the Giants built their new stadium, the section of wall by the right-fielder is no wall at all. When the Giants are at home, about 75 fans can try to distract the opponents right-fielder while watching a game through a modern knothole … a chain-length fence. During the season, you can usually watch the whole game free of charge. When there is a crowd (like during the World Series) the security guards rotate the fans every three innings so a new group of fans get a chance at the “knothole.” These fans don’t go home though. When their time at the fence is over they stand back behind on the promenade while the fans at the fence shout out the play-by-play to them, just like when they were kids. Before you rush down to your nearest major league ballpark, the Giants are the only team in baseball to intentionally create a “knothole” in their stadium wall.
This is not a free-for-all though; the knothole fans have rules; no chairs, dogs (I think the mean the four-legged kind not the ones on a bun) or drinking, and definitely no saving places for people … only the people who stand in the line get a chance at the fence. Some fans show up twelve hours early to stand in line, the knothole fans police themselves. When you look at the cost of a ticket, and “a dog, and a beer” at a ball game (not to mention all the other things) some people would say that the Giants are losing tens of thousands of dollars every game by letting free-loaders watch the game for free. Even without a hot dog and a beer the cost is high, and besides how can you watch a baseball game at the park without a hotdog and a beer (or pop if you prefer), I think it is actually a law written down somewhere. As a matter of fact, I think with the high cost of a ticket, the first dog and beer should be included with the price of admission … but back to our discussion.
I do not think the Giants are losing any money. Paul interviewed Tony who drove up from Sacramento with his two sons and their three friends. Tony said he could afford one ticket, but no way could he afford three or six tickets. The knothole fans are knothole fans because they cannot afford the price of a ticket. I think this is something that actually will PAY the Giants. Some of these kids will grow up to become men who can afford the price of a ticket. Those men will pay to go to a Giants’ game and remember with nostalgia the days when they were little kids watching the Giants with dad as one of the “knothole” fans.
More important, the Giants have brought back some of the magic of baseball; once again baseball fans young and old, rich and poor, can watch their heroes if just for a few innings (well … at the Giants; stadium anyway). Who knows it may even bring back some of the fans who left baseball over the strike.
Oh, by the way, I am writing this while listening to the radio and it sounds like the Giants are one inning from going up 2 games to 0 in the World Series.
Have a great week and “Go Giants.”
Babe Ruth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)