Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Some of you may remember this jingle from childhood, especially if you’re a baseball fan:

“Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd,

Buy me some peanuts and CrackerJacks. I don’t care if I never get back,

Let me root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t win it’s a shame

For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out, at the old ball game.”

You may even remember Crackerjacks – that sickeningly sweet caramel popcorn treat with the prize in the bottom of the box, and yes they still make it, although the toy is now a digital code to an online app.

The baseball playoffs have started and the remaining teams are battling it out to be in the World Series. My team has already been eliminated, but not before I watched 28 consecutive nail-biting games in the month of September. The Toronto Blue Jays hung in there but finally lost out to the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees by a one game lead for the Wild Card spot.

Watching baseball can be addicting, especially when you start to structure your day around whether it’s an afternoon or evening game, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fickle fan. I only tune in when it gets towards the end of the season, and only if the Jays have a shot at going further, and only if I like the team members, so that’s not every year as they’re constantly trading players. They had a good bunch of guys this year, some of them real characters, and you could tell they were having fun out there – but isn’t it always fun when your team is winning.

We only have one major league baseball team here in Canada, so there’s not a lot of choice when it comes to which team to root for. It not like hockey, our national sport, where there are seven teams competing. But who wants to hang out in a cold arena when you can have summer sunshine, fresh air and the smell of twenty dollar popcorn. The Skydome roof can be closed in twenty minutes if it looks like rain.

Unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs (who haven’t won a Stanley Cup in so long that no one remembers when), the Blue Jays have won the World Series – twice in fact – in 1992 and 1993. I still remember some of the players from those years, Pat Borders, Roberto Alomar and who can forget that game winning home run by Joe Carter. I was in Toronto for a conference that year and missed the parade by one day, but some of my work colleagues went and it was a wild and crazy time.

I’ve never been to a live Blue Jays game, although when I was there five years ago, my hotel was full of fans in their blue jerseys, and I debated skipping my course and going to the game instead (I was close to retiring anyway) but like a good little employee I did not, and they ended up losing anyway. The seats in the upper stratosphere are cheap, but you need a sherpa to guide you, and advance tickets require too much planning and mega-moolah for the hotel room, parking, and overpriced food and beverages.

Me in my “sponsored” baseball t-shirt and cringe-worthy Twiggy/sixties pixie hair cut…

People are often surprised that I watch baseball, considering I’m so nonathletic, but then I played girls little league when I was a kid – for three long years – where I was the worst player ever. My parents made me play, as my cousin next-door played, but she was almost as bad. I struck out every single time. I can still hear the “easy out” chants in my ear when I came up to bat. My “official” position was left field, where I was mostly bored. Luckily few balls ever came that way for I was just as bad at throwing. Usually I spent the time daydreaming, and if I could have, I would have brought a book.

I’ve hated sports ever since, especially anything requiring a ball and hand-eye coordination, like tennis, badminton, volleyball etc and I still have horrors of high school gym glass. I seemed to lack the stamina required for exercise, although to be fair to my younger self, I didn’t know at the time that I had a heart murmur.

When I say my parents forced me to play, I mean I never spoke up and said I didn’t want to – I guess when you’re a kid you don’t feel like you don’t have a choice – it’s like piano or swimming lessons, they just sign you up. I was relieved when I was allowed to quit. Maybe they realized that striking out all the time was not good for a child’s self-esteem, but I don’t think parents really thought about things like that back in the sixties. I quit because my cousin quit. I can understand why soccer is a much more popular sport these days, as it requires less skill, although many girls play hockey now too. I think of my poor mother carting us around every night, but then I suppose she thought we might be bored without some kind of structured activity. My father hardly ever saw a game as we had a dairy farm, although he did catch a few weekend games the year my brother lost the provincial championship,

We had a big backyard on our farm and I was much happier playing the occasional game with my cousins next door, until someone broke a basement window, and we had to relocate the diamond to the little field in between us – if there weren’t any cows grazing in it. The backyard pickup games didn’t resume until decades later when there were grandchildren….funny how much more indulgent grandparents are.

Anyway, the end result of my short baseball career was a life-long aversion to sports. The only benefit was some knowledge of the rules of baseball, whereas I’m clueless when it comes to hockey or football and all those penalties.

A few observations on the sport…

My what a vast discrepancy in salaries there is. Yes, George Springer might be worth $25 million a year, (150 million over 6 years) but those two 22 year old rookies, Valdimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, (worth $600,00), were just as valuable for a whole lot less, not to mention doing just as well in the home run standings. That’s the thing about baseball – anyone can step up to the plate.

Photo by Mandie Inman on Pexels.com

Speaking of the players, I can handle the wild haircuts (Lourdes Gurriel looks like a pineapple), and those ugly lumberjack beards, and the longish hair, but the spitting – just no. If there’s no crying in baseball there shouldn’t be any spitting either.

Every game counts – the Jays missed the wild card spot by one measly game. Yes, I know a team needs time to gel and they didn’t a home stadium for most of the year – due to the pandemic they played in Dunedin and Buffalo until mid-summer – and home town enthusiasm means a lot, but a little more effort earlier on would have made all the difference.

Even baseball has it’s politics. While it’s generally minus the all out brawling of hockey, the #Cardgate episode illustrates just how overheated things can get. The opposing team picked up the play card the Blue Jays catcher had accidentally dropped at home plate and kept it. When the bat boy was sent over to the dugout to retrieve it, their player refused to give it up. The next night, said player got hit in the back while up at bat, by some rookie Jays pitcher, and a “heated discussion” ensued with the pitcher being ejected from the game. The ensuing debate went on for days, demonstrating poor sportsmanship all around.

Speaking of controversy, some of those umpire calls were so controversial, I wonder how long it will be until an electronic strike zone makes the calls at home plate. Apparently, the technology already exists.

The season goes on way too long – April to early November. The Jays played 162 games and won 91, but when the World Series is wrapping up to the threat of snow flurries, that’s crazy. I know they have to sell a lot of tickets to pay for the big salaries, but it must be exhausting for the players, especially with all the traveling and a game almost every day. Baseball is a young person’s game. Anyone over 30 is an oldster.

To be a major league baseball player you must have a unique sounding name, something that will roll off the sports announcers tongue with a melodious flare. The game announcers themselves all seem to have the same alternatively soothing/melodramatic/mesmerizing tone of voice. Sometimes I just like to listen to the ballgame on the radio, in the background, as a kind of nostalgic salute to childhood when my dad would have the ballgame on on Sunday afternoons. But then I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell voice the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, starting in 1960, back when Canada didn’t even field a team.

My mother told me a story about growing up in the Depression. The kids in her neighborhood all played baseball in the empty lots around town, girls and boys together. As her family was too poor to own a radio, her older brother used to sit outside the neighbor’s window, and listen to the ballgame on their wireless. The neighbor’s wife would graciously turn the volume way up so he could hear the announcer through the open window. I can picture that little boy sitting on the grass in the summer heat dreaming of baseball glory. (In 1939 when she was 13 they were finally able to afford their own radio.) Sadly, my uncle threw all his baseball cards away in the 1960’s, including the Babe Ruth ones, thinking they were worthless.

It will be a long six months until the boys of summer return.

PS. For anyone who remembers “candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize” here’s a link to an old tv commerical for CrackerJack.

PS. Thanks to Ally for pointing out this Carly Simon version of Take Me Out to The Ballgame. The song was written in 1908 and popular in vaudeville shows a century ago.