It's the only way to go,
Baseball on the R-A-DEE-O!

The ball field is in my mind and on the radio. Such a beautiful word to me: “radio.” It’s Vin Scully, that Dodger voice of my youth as we crossed over the California desert from Arizona on the way to Disneyland and, yeah, maybe a ball game or two. It’s the Arizona Diamondbacks over the past summer, when cable TV was unaffordable, filling my mind in the afternoons, into evenings when nothing else would do but baseball on the radio.

The contrast of the dirt infield and well-tempered green grass forming the diamond call out: The echoes of memories collected after two American centuries. You can drive by the little league ballpark and only rarely see a father and son playing catch. Nor are there games of pickup, easy and disorganized diversions where you just pick sides and play. Soon, little league teams will play there. Soon, the annual rite of spring will be renewed. But the World Series is on now, and thankfully, I can watch it on TV.

Not many young people understand this. They are into different games now. Video games such as Grand Theft Auto, or, World of Warcraft.

For some reason, for the local children, the game needs a jump start. Call it Little League, organized by dads, by men with whole different motives in mind. Instead of the pastime being as spontaneous as stickball in the street, it's an organized thing: An adult system imposed on childhood.

There are kids aplenty, and games for them on every level: Little League, Bobby Sox, Pony League, Babe Ruth, American Legion, high school ... but where do kids just go out and play?

The ball field is empty. Absolutely perfect. It's a Autumnal, World Series spring kinda day. The national pastime's light is on, but there is nobody sliding for home at the Field of Dreams in Iowa. Not today. Meanwhile, the digital streams of video violence run hot and true.


The sad state of the major leagues have something to do with this ebb in the continuum. "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and reality of the game," wrote cultural historian Jacques Barzun in his 1954 book of essays, God's Country and Mine. Sure, in '54, the game was on a roll. In '54, major league baseball was in the full glory of the golden age of Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Stan Musial. Ebbets Field was still standing. The collective soul of Brooklyn was still intact. That year, Willie Mays made his famous "catch" in the World Series, and the Cleveland Indians were a contender. The Indians were expected to go to the World Series.

Oh how things have changed. Barzun, a professor emeritus at Columbia University, talked like a man betrayed. "I've gotten so disgusted with baseball, I don't follow it anymore," he said, taking it all back. "I just see the headlines and turn my ahead away in shame from what we have done with our most interesting game and best, healthiest pastime."

It's doubtful, however, the average 10-year-old really cares if the game is abandoning its sense of tradition. The average 10-year-old is much more concerned with Nintendo, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and whether Shaquille O'Neal can make the transition from the basketball court to the rappin' MTV video. Meanwhile, their parents are wondering how they are going to transport their sons and daughters to all of the soccer games, basketball shoot-outs and judo jousts. Baseball is just another stop for the carpool.

Kids haven't changed, but the competition for their attention span certainly has.
Which is a shame. Baseball began as a boy's game in the country fields of 19th-century America. If the game has continued to reside anywhere, it's been in the heart of the child, both young and old. At no time of the year does the heart of the child call out more than in the spring. That's when children drag out their dusty bags of bats, tattered balls and gloves flattened like pancakes from months of disuse. You can search through relics from days gone by, and in the green cathedrals of America, to hear echoes of that fading heartbeat.

On the cover of March 1928 issue of American Boy magazine, there's a picture of a boy in knickers and stirrup socks renewing the ritual. He's apparently just searched through his closet and found his old uniform. It's spring time. Holding the jersey up to the light, he's noticed some surprising holes in his cherished outfit. "Moths!," exclaims the type. At the bottom of the page, a teaser for what's inside: "Miller Huggins Discusses His New York Yankees."

One can just imagine the excitement of a 1920s boy at the receipt of this issue. This was just one year after the fabled 1927 Yankees of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Yet, as famous as they were, such heroes were hardly the victim of overexposure. Or, for that matter, a cynical populace. For the standard kid in the Midwest, news of baseball was devoured like chocolate. Radio broadcasts were rare. Small town newspaper coverage was sporadic. And here it was, Miller Huggins, manager of the Yankees, talking about what it's like to breathe the same air as the Babe! One can just feel the hero-worshipping heart of the child at the very fevered peak of baseball in the 20th century.

And if that child could ever see the mighty Babe swing and play, well, that would be an indelible memory lasting long into childhood. Indeed, our childhood memories can resonate for a lifetime. They can be stronger than the game we saw just the other day. Which is why old baseball relics get saved to begin with: to keep those memories alive.

Move the clock forward to 1948: Ron Harner is six years old. His family, which lives in a small town in the coal mining region of central Pennsylvania, doesn't have much money. His father is good enough to play pro ball, but has to stay home to work in the mines and support his family. Any luxuries are rare. So it's a special event when Harner goes, with his mom and dad, to see the Philadelphia A's play the Chicago White Sox at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

The A's! In person! Connie Mack! In person! Harner is ecstatic. But it gets better--in the form of a ticket stub: the picked-out-of-a-hat winner in a promotion held during the game. "I was six years old and ended up with a ticket stub that won a pair of free tickets and also an authentic A's jacket," Harner said.

The Harners go home and wait. Then, on August 9, 1948, a thunderstruck 6-year-old boy in Valley View, Pennsylvania receives the following message typed on official letterhead from the "American Base Ball Club of Philadelphia":

My dear young friend:
I know that you have been waiting patiently for the Athletics jacket which you won at the game with the White Sox on July 18th. I have just been informed that they will soon be ready.
I would like you to be my guest with one of your parents at the game between the A's and the St. Louis Browns at Shibe Park, Saturday, August 28th at which time it will be my pleasure to present this jacket to you ...
Looking forward to seeing you at the game, I am
Sincerely yours,
Connie Mack

There is no signature, and therefore no real way to know if Connie Mack wrote the letter. But Mack's hand was real when Harner shook it in the A's dugout 45 years ago. He still has that jacket, the letter and his memories of his mom, his dad, and the man whose career in baseball spans back to more than a century ago.

"I remember," Harner says, "an old man saying to me when I had the winning ticket for the prize, `Son, you just won a prize from the greatest manager in baseball.' "
Everyday he can look at that jacket and ride the only feasible time machine we'll ever have: the one inside our heads.

"Baseball always reverts back to childhood," said artist Andy Jurinko, another person whose memories of Shibe Park in the 1950s have powerful, relevant, lifetime resonances.
Jurinko saw his first baseball game at Shibe in Philadelphia when he was a teenager. In those days, he spent industrious hours making full-color diagrams of every major league ballpark. The drawings were for a dice baseball game he'd invented.

Eventually, he put childish things away. He went to Kutztown State College in Pennsylvania on a football scholarship, joined the Army, then art school, then spent years as an acid-dropping hippie artist in San Francisco in the '60s and '70s. His life was a metaphor for a changing America. His early work focused on pop culture and the street scenes of the era, topless go-go dancers, Hell's Angels, portraits of Jayne Mansfield holding a Chihuahua. Later, realizing his sense for gritty realism didn't quite fit in with flower power, he retreated east, trying to find a niche in corporate America.

Then, in the late '70s, he told a friend about his baseball dice game. Jurinko recreated the game, doing tempura paintings of old major league ballparks for the backdrop, and started playing diceball with his buddy for hours at time. He realized: This childhood obsession could be an adult one, too.

By 1986, he'd sold his first ballpark painting: A black-and-white aerial of Ebbets Field and a Polo Grounds oil, the latter going for $11,000. He was onto something. Next thing he knew, a Fenway Park piece sold for $25,000. There was money in memories. Now Jurinko is one of many who are making a living on fashioning his memories to reach a nostalgic baseball public.

Jurinko's work plugs into the way an old ballpark can conjure memories of youth. Even the most tinkertoy ballpark or ragged field can produce a cathartic flood of emotion. Such was the case for myself when I visited old Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which has since been replaced by the grand, neo-classic Ballpark at Arlington.

It was a few months before Arlington Stadium was torn down. I was let inside the ruin by an old African-American dressed in a guard's uniform with a Texas Rangers' insignia. He patroled the sun-punished remains of the ballpark as if games were still going on every night. He was a lesson in denial. His job was to refuse to let dreams die. He made the rounds, regularly checked the cluttered ramps, strolling through the red seat-backs strewn like a pile of autumn leaves.

The ballfield's infield was buried in a Kilamanjaro of scooped-out Texas peat. Windows in the luxury boxes were broken in spidderwebby patterns, and inside, knotted telephone lines were stunned into silence. I walked through all of this and got this spooky feeling. It made me feel like I was in the movie, The Poseidon Adventure, which was about a cruise ship that had been overturned by a tidal wave. The gutted luxury boxes were desolate except for cracked wall mirrors, and I wondered if this meant seven more years of second place for the Texas Rangers.

Because the Rangers were my team, ever since we lived in Dallas in the early '70s. But we left in 1972, and I didn't get to see very much ball played in this stadium as a boy. Perhaps, for that reason, the sight of that eight-ton scoreboard lying dead filled me with an overpowering sense of loss. Across the way, I could see the new stadium. It represented new dreams for all of the youths who talk their dads into buying them red caps and inflatable bats and baseball cards of Jose Canseco, Will Clark and Juan Gonzalez.

Yet, looking at the shards of seats littering old Arlington, like so many bodies after a battle, I saw my childhood denied. I broke down in tears, thinking about something I hadn't thought of for a long time: Dick Billings' wrist bands. Billings, catcher for the Rangers in '72, was my hero, mostly because of the wristbands he wore. Those red, white and blue wrist bands were the definition on machismo for this 11-year-old boy. Anyway, there I was, 34-year-old, crying like a baby. Just letting go. Then, I decided to take something of value, important to me perhaps, but nobody else. I gathered one of the red plastic seats, an old program, a blue plastic sliver off a refreshment stand that said, "Nachos."

I reclaimed my youth. And my hero, Dick Billings.

Later that day, I went to see the Rangers play the Oakland A's at the new ballpark. That night, we watched in the press box as O.J. Simpson played out his tragi-comic drama in his Ford Bronco on an L.A. Freeway. A few minutes before, I'd caught Will Clark and Jose Canseco in the hall leading to the dugout. They were ducking "The National Anthem." Canseco wheedled in an irreverent Tweedy Bird voice as Clark winked, "Can you imagine hearing that song one-hundred and sixty-two times a year and for twenty five or so spring training games?"

Yes, the modern sports hero has changed. So it's easy to understand how the intensity of a young's persons gaze is at a considerably lesser beam. But perhaps we always had to drag our kids to the ballpark. Maybe they always needed prodding to understand the game's nuances, its beauty and history. Tradition is taught, not inherited.

Father and sons play catch, at first with some tentativeness, and then with gathering speed. Adults look at their old four-fingered gloves, autographs and souvenirs and remember. It's not that we are so enamored of the game as children. It's that the seeds we planted so long ago have a way of growing on you. The continuum is funny that way, and so is listening to the sound of baseball on the radio.


... Finding Tatonka in Winfield, Iowa

You are in Winfield, Iowa and everyone seems to be staring at you. Must be the dollar store shades, since the future is so bright (here in Hades ... let us not pray), and you are in that peculiar "you are not from around here look of yours. Especially with what may seem to the locals as an odd manner of bobbing and weaving in the bush, as well as the downright Martian vocabulary.

Winfield, in the southeastern corner of the state, is far less bombed-out, bumed-out looking than nearby Morning Sun, Iowa, but that's not saying much. The people of Winfield appear, at least on this sunny day brighter, happier, perhaps even prettier. But that's only on this day. A sunny day. A Big Little Wagon Grain machine goes by and the driver waves; because, well, he's getting stared at by you, marvelling at such a large and marvelous device, because you can't get over your "am I a real boy" Tonka Trucks wonder years.

There are several cars in the front of the favorite and only restaurant, Pork's, where the food is cheap, tasty as hell, and served with an easy going smile and sense of merriment. People stroll out of the place with leftovers in styrofoam containers, big Buddha bellies, and on the way to their cars, taking up all of the parking spaces on the road out front, each and every one have one last fine thing to say to each other.

That, after nearly breaking their necks to look at you. Since you are still in that "Am I real real boy, Tonka trucks" phasey haze.

It's mid-October and the leaves are just starting to turn. Funny thing is: It was supposed to rain today.

The local historical museum, with fine bright-eyed seniors working in there, fully prepared with their centuries of knowing, to assist you in your not-so-private investigation. One lady gives you are tour. She is spry. Quite wise. Eager for this attention. She tells you, for example, that in 1907 the whole town, except for the hat shop, burned down. Another year an entire brick-made church was completely dismantled after two of the church elders ha got into a fight fight after failing to come to an agreement over how to spend the money donations attained, one would suppose, after many Sundays of passing the plate. Stuff like that, she tells you, as you gave at the black and white photos of what this church once looked like, as well as the bombed-out, post World War II firebombing look of what the town looked like after the fire of 1907, of bleak and figures silhouetted, of dazed survivors looking around, trying to figure out, "now what," after the disaster.

Now what? Indeed.

But such worries on this sunny neo-Depression era day are replaced by oyour notices of the reddish Winfield Wolves "welcome" flags posted high on the utility line posts. The noon siren on top of one of these streetlight-included posts shouts to workers and residents that it's noon ... time to eat, or leave, or just hang out at Pork's ... and so on ... as a thresher rolls by, a big Jolly green giant of a monster UFO kind. The driver waves. A king of the new Martian technology that is what really amazes you about the people and technologies of the area. The leaves keep turning into reds, oranges ... fall is coming (going by?) way too fast.

Yeah, it's one fine sunny day in this place. A day to remember. With everyone nearly breaking their necks to get a look at you in your dollar store shades.

Why? Because, because, because ... because of the wonderful things you does? Hell, no!

You are just lost in the amazement of that fabled "Am I a real boy" Tonka Truck haze and you just can't even catch up to not being in Kansas anymore ...


You are Definitely
Not Making a Movie
for HBO in
Riverside, Iowa

You were born in a cross-fire hurricane, and so therefore you can manage that kind of sad fact of life in the Disoriented Dysturbia of Disneyland, America. But if you go into a modern-day community casino, may the hair of the dog have mercy on you. You are now among the heathen, so the devil is your friend, and God is, well, an astronaut. You are in the Riverside, Iowa casino, and you are about to avoid, to the best of your abilities, dying young, dying old, and especially kicking off too soon before your number finely comes in.

You are a wannabe filmmaker, and so you are also definitely not here to make a movie for HBO about the future birthplace of Captain James. T. Kirk, which, according to the Star Trek film lore, in Riverside, Iowa. You most certainly are not William Shatner trying to film a phony movie, which turned out to be a real funny mock-u-mentary, mocking the poor people of Riverside. Not all of them are “poor,” quite likely, but some may be, unfortunately, due to the casino, built for just such fools. Fortunately, the bathrooms in the casino offer a little stand with a brochure on gambling addiction.

You find this highly ironic. Downright hilarious. You can easily go gonzo on this crap table of fodder for your little story. You might as well be in Las Vegas, loathing, fearing for not completely violating the copyrights for all you know about Hunter S. Thompson, the drug-crazed journo who made that place infamous with the book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But you are better than that. The drug years, even for the prescription pills, are over for you. Except for cigarettes and nicotine, which you are now sucking in at an incredible rate in the center of the gambling facility, which allows for such things, allows for the last legal intoxicants, other than alcohol (but you are definitely not here to not drink while definitely not making a movie for HBO) in Riverside, Iowa.

Disorientation is everything in a casino. It’s almost as bad as your regular local shopping mall. But Riverside residents, who were angry and embarrassed about what was revealed about themselves in the Shatner mock-u-mentary, have to go somewhere else to shop. Their town is dying, like most small town centers are dying, due to the big box culture of the larger communities and towns and cities, due to the Walmartification of America. But that’s a long story. Told all of the time. People seek out disorientation to shake themselves awake. To get some noise. Some excitement. You can never tell them the cities of gold aren’t bad, that they shouldn’t actually move toward the light, the phony light.

But malls rarely pay you back. They just take and take and take. However, casinos don’t. They give you hope. Insane, raging, completely irrational hope. They give you, for just that one rare momentary bit of living flame, a real sense for what it’s like to be alive. Rather than creature comfort, in a casino, the music is never as cool in the mall, it’s far cooler.

In fact, from one end of America to next, a casino offers the most serene and pleasing music ever made. That music doesn’t come from one sound, mind you, but the whole collaboration of sounds: the jingles, the bells, the whistles, the unholy cosmic blasts signifying nothing, but, perhaps, just maybe every now and then, big winners. It’s the music the very sun must here as it soaks up all of the sounds of the planets, and Pluto, too.

No sports betting at this casino mind you, but this cosmic music combines in your head, ebbing and flowing, and that’s all the God in you really needs to trust. In football, you trust. Because it’s spontaneous. Violent. Emotional from end to spinning spheroid. And coffee, too, and smokes, nine dollars a pack here. Unlike in many places in Vegas, the alcohol is not free when you gamble. So trust in that, too. But you only have one cigarette, and you are writing in frantic pirate text now, and the effect of having a cig hanging from your lip is so Hunter S. Thompson you don’t want to let go of that prop. The cig, a prop. Trust in that.

You are definitely not making a movie for HBO here in Riverside, Iowa. So you stay in the middle of the building, to keep from getting dizzy and you set your cell phone on maximum, in case you need a rescue. You stay in the center of the place, to keep from spinning out of orbit, but out of orbit is where you really need to go. To talk to the marketing manager: You are definitely not here to make a movie for HBO. Her name is Haselhoff.

Other than that weird coincidence, the Haselhoff connection, since she is not, however, related to David Haselhoff, the terrible actor who somehow made it big in Germany, according to the ongoing Saturday Night Live gag during the 1980s and early 1990s. No, this casino, other than the music of the spheres, is a pretty standard unit because all casinos are standard units. The Corvette is available for the occasional big winner, and so on …

So you are definitely are not here to make a movie about the future birthplace of Captain Kirk, who isn’t real, not anymore than anything else in the false world. You are not here to make a movie for HBO. The good and bad people of Riverside have suffered enough, and the future fake Captain James T. Kirk is still slouching to a slot machine, yet to be born.

~ Douglas McDaniel,
Riverside, Iowa
The Toto is No Longer in Kansas To-Do List

10) Wake up (Bark!)
9) Get out of the hotel room in Mythville, Iowa without waking every guest in the place in order to avoid getting kicked out or threatened bodily harm (Bark! Bark!)
8) Check the time (5 a.m.) ( Bark! Bark! Bark!)
7) Learn to count (Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!) (Four times … I mean, five!) (Bark!)
6) Search stardimmed skies for UFOs, but grow frustrated due to WalMart distribution center lights (Bark! X 5)
5) Go to Wal Mart parking lot gas station store to buy a pack of American spirit cigs with “FSC” (fire retarded) notice to indicate the packaging label’s complete lie, due to the Iowa state liberal hobgoblin that each pack is 100 percent “additive free.” (Bark! X 6)
4) Fail to spend much time reading Thomas Pynchon’s most recent detective noir novel, something, something about “Vice” (Bark to the power of XJ37=B)
3) Notice the scent of coffee on the premises … o hell, grounds (Bark! X 8)
2) Make mental note to use “spell check” more often, except when writing in “pirate lingo” mode (Bark X 9)
1) Declare Monday, Oct. 18, 2010, as the first day of the administration of President Barack Obama that everything that exists is now officially his fault, since every decision made now until election day is 100 percent politically motivated! (Bark! X 10)
- 1) Take vowel movement …

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