Fully Appreciating Our National Pastime.
One morning around the middle of next month, I will take a sip of coffee and casually ask my wife if she knows what’s happening on that particular day. She’ll look up from the morning paper, think just for a moment, and say, “Pitchers and catchers report.” After 38 years, she knows that, for me, the start of Spring Training ranks right up there with Christmas and the 4th of July.
I saw my very first major league baseball game on May 25, 1946. My aunt invited me up to Boston from Hartford for a weekend and—God bless her!—she took me to a Red Sox-Yankee game at Fenway Park. The Sox won, 7-4, and I’ve been hooked on the game and on the Sox ever since.
The wonderful thing about baseball is that the basics are simple enough for a 9-year-old kid to understand, but at the same time it’s so intricate and complex, you can never learn all there is to know about the game.
Bob Fontaine was what they call a “lifer” in professional baseball circles. He was originally signed as a pitcher by the Brooklyn Dodgers and was a scout after his playing days. In the late 70s, he was General Manager for the San Diego Padres, which is when I had a chance to chat with him on a couple of occasions. It was easy and it was fun, because Bob Fontaine loved to talk baseball.
Remarking on the intricacies of the game, he said, “If you go to a baseball game and don’t see something you’ve never seen before, you weren’t really paying attention.”
And it was Bob Fontaine who made me realize just how elite the players are who actually make it to “The Show” … to the major leagues. We were watching two dozen Triple-A players in the Padre organization warming up and I mumbled something inane about all the talent out there on the field.
Fontaine nodded, then said “Every one of those guys was probably the best athlete in the history of his high school.” He paused a moment, then added, “… and 90-percent of them will never make the big leagues.”
Bob Fontaine played professionally for five seasons, including three at the Triple-A level. He never made it to the big leagues as a player.