Baseball Is… And How The Royals’ Fred White Gave It Life, Breath & A Voice

As a tribute to Fred White and what he meant to the game of baseball and my Basball Is… verse, I have reposted this column from April 2012. Rest well, Fred. We have a pennant race to prepare for this summer.

*****

Baseball is grass, chalk and dirt
Displayed the same yet differently
In every park that has ever heard the words, “Play ball!”

Baseball is a passion that that bonds and divides all those who know it.

Baseball is a pair of hands stained with newsprint
A set of eyes squinting to read a box score
And a brow creased in an attempt to recreate a three-hour game from an inch-square block of type.

Baseball is the hat I wear to mow the lawn.

Baseball is a simple game of catch And the never-ending search for the
perfect knuckle ball.

Baseball is Willie vs. Mickey
Gibson vs. Koufax
And Buddy Biancalana against the odds.

Baseball links Kansan and Missourian
American and Japanese
But most of all – father and son.

Baseball is the scent of spring
The unmistakable sound of a double down the line
And the face of a ten-year-old emerging from a pile of bodies with a worthless yet priceless foul ball.

Baseball is a language of very simple words That tells unbelievably magic tales.

Baseball is three brothers in the same uniform, on the same team for one brief summer, captured forever in a black and white photo on the table by the couch.

Baseball is a glove on a shelf
Oiled and tightly wrapped
Slumbering through the stark winter months.

Baseball is some Elmer’s glue, a couple of finishing nails, a hammer and some black tapeLovingly applied in an attempt to coax a few more innings out of a splintered Louisville Slugger.

Baseball is the foreign sensation you get when placing your hand in someone else’s glove.

Baseball is Mark Sawatski swiping his mom’s Oxydol to “chalk” the lines for our neighborhood sandlot game of the week.

Baseball is the smell of a freshly screen-printed jersey,
In the hands of an 11-year-old who just made the team.

Baseball is the way generations compare themselves and their idols.

Baseball is molding the bill of your cap to your own personal specifications.

Baseball is a breast pocket bulging with a transistor radio.
Baseball is the reason there are transistor radios.

Baseball is a fifth-grade history class huddled around Sister Irma and her Philco
On a sunny October afternoon.

Baseball is sitting in your car on a humid summer night
Listening to the play-by-play on the only radio that will pick up the game.

Baseball is a voice in a box
Describing men you’ve never met
In a place you’ve never been
Doing things you’ll never have the chance to do.

Baseball is the potential for a no-hitter with every national anthem.

Baseball is 90 feet of anticipation.

Baseball is my dad hollering score updates upstairs after mom had long ago sent us to bed.

Baseball is the acquired art of extending the life of a hard ball
With knots, tape and spit
Until the round rubber center reveals itself and ends the day’s game.

Baseball is a shoestring catch
A booted ground ball
And even a Clete Boyer
But it’s not a game for loafers.

Baseball is the numbing sting of a fastball off the fists of a batter on a cold April night.

Baseball is knowing when to run
When to stop
And when to slide.

Baseball is a thinking man’s game that takes no brains to excel at.

Baseball is a tear rolling down the cheek of a child in uniform
As he watches a thunderstorm wash out the day’s game.

Baseball is a scribbled and blotched scorecard
That can make 6-4-3 look like a ballet.

Baseball is fireworks at the ball park every Fourth of July.

Baseball is experimenting with the grip of a baseball
In the hopes of inventing a new and unhittable pitch.

Baseball is pepper, three-flies up
Fve-hundred and home run derby
Played by kids in every schoolyard since before Babe Ruth.

Baseball is imitating every nuance of the stance of your favorite player.

Baseball is determining who gets “first-ups” by strangling the neck of a bat.

Baseball is the anguish you feel when a Yankee gets traded to the Red Sox.

Baseball is how I learned my geography.

Baseball is the four-inch-high trophy that I have never thrown away.

Baseball is taught by dads to sons
In hopes that the boy will master the game that the man did not.

Baseball is a dream that you never really give up on.

Baseball is precious.
Baseball is timeless.
Baseball is forever.

By Greg Hall 1994 copyright / GregHall24@yahoo.com / Twitter @greghall24

_____

An audio version of Baseball Is… was recorded by a number of MLB play-by-play voices in 1995 with the hard work and determination of the Royals’ Fred White. I had given Fred a written copy of the verse in hopes he and Denny Matthews might record it for me so that I could someday play it for my then five-month-old firstborn son.

I didn’t know Fred and he had certainly never heard of me. I saw him at the Big 8 basketball tourney in 1994 and spent two minutes making my plea. He smiled, took the two-page poem and went back to watching Missouri practice. I did not hear from Fred again for four months.

Fred called me at home one day and said that he and Denny couldn’t record my piece. My heart sank a bit but I really hadn’t expected much.

“It’s too good for Denny and I to record,” he explained. “I want to get a bunch of the best voices in baseball to record this poem of yours. I think it is that good!”

I was floored. But if you know Fred White, you know he is a man of his word. He contacted every famous baseball voice he knew — and he knew them all. Harry Caray, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, Ernie Harwell…all of them. He didn’t get them all to agree to do it but he got a lot of them. Ernie Harwell paid my piece one of my favorite compliments when he said he thought it was competion for his well-known baseball poem.

Vin Scully called me to apologize that he couldn’t record it because he didn’t own his own voice. “Too much red tape,” is how he put it. He could not have been nicer. When he introduced himself on the phone with, “Hi Greg, this is Vin Scully of the Los Angeles Dodgers,” I wanted to believe it was a prank — but that voice! We talked for 15 minutes about the Dodgers, my childhood love for Willie Mays and the Giants and how much he liked my poem. That was one helluva phone call.

Anyway, Fred gets all these great broadcasters to record the entire piece and then the guys at Royals Radio spliced the voices together to create a seamless audio version with the theme from The Natural as a music bed. Fred called me just prior opening day in 1995 and played it for me at Royals Stadium. I dressed my then one-year-old son in a Royals jumper and brought him as well. He sat and ate popcorn while Fred and his engineer played the recording.

I cried when I heard the piece the first time. Hell, I get a little misty when I hear it now 17 years later. Fred took a piece I wrote and made it memorable with those voices. Some are now gone. I heard from so many people over the years because of Fred’s determination to get that piece recorded that I was overwhelmed with their kind words. I could tell stories all day about the tales people have told me and the memories the piece evoked for them. I hope it strikes a chord with you as well. Play ball.

Click on the link below to listen to the audio version of Basball Is…

01 Track 1

GregHall24@yahoo.com / Twitter @greghall24

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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39 Responses to Baseball Is… And How The Royals’ Fred White Gave It Life, Breath & A Voice

  1. Chris Kamler says:

    Thank you.

    Thank you very much.

    • MillerNotSoLite says:

      If this is the Chris Kamler I think it is then I want to say thank you! You and your dad are a large part of why I balled listening to this poem. It brought back wonderful memories of AJ Wilson and Water Well, which I grew up around both playing and watching my brothers. Theyre memories I will never forget and I thank you! . . .now, if this is not the Chris Kamler Im thinking it is, I apologize and have a wonderful day!

  2. dp says:

    And Greg says JoPa writes puff pieces…

  3. Kent says:

    Love the audio version. Is there a list of the voices?

  4. dman says:

    Outstanding! I will be sending this to my entire family.

  5. Java Man says:

    “Baseball is the foreign sensation you get when placing your hand in someone else’s glove.”

    = Getting some strange.

  6. randyraley says:

    There is a certain poetry in baseball along with a sense of nostalgia. God help me if I go all James Earl Jones on here, but baseball and music are how I reference the milestones in my youth. Cardinal baseball goes back at least three generations in my family, since the twenties. My mother and father honeymooned and Sportman’s Park in St. Louis. There was a shooting that night at the ballpark…give it up for the St.L. She adored Stan Musial. Growing up on a farm in southern Missouri, summer nights were spent listening to the crackle of KMOX with Harry and Jack night after night. I wept with joy like a baby after game 7 of the 67 World Series. I died inside when Lolich out dueled Gibson in 68. I fell in love with a young brash Royals team in the late 70s and then the summer I moved to St. Louis, my two favorite teams meet in a disputed series. Yikes. The abolsute breathless joy of watching the Cardinals pull their death defying feat last year. No other sport can do that. I spent a summer doing the PA for the TBones, I haven’t had as much fun since. The constant is baseball.

    • Greg Hall says:

      My dad was a Cardinals’ fan and a huge Stan the Man guy. We learned all about “The Gashouse Gang” in our house. Harry and Jack were the soundtrack to my summers.

    • Smartman says:

      Randy:

      LOVE Planet Radio. Been making my way through your blog. Great stuff! Thanks for sharing your memories.

  7. randyraley says:

    The audio was priceless. Well done.

  8. MUC says:

    Baseball is going to the Busch Stadium in 1985 with your dad and your favorite player Vince Coleman draws a walk. It is 44000 people including the pitcher and catcher knowing he is going to steal second and he does it anyway. Baseball is Vince stealing third on the very next pitch.

  9. Kyle says:

    Fantastic Greg!

    Man, Harry Kalas had the best voice ever.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Fred White told me that when he received Kalas’ version of the poem on a cassette, Harry can be heard saying as he begins, “I’m doing one #@%@! take of this thing and if it’s not good enough then tough $#%@!” Or something like that. I’d say Kalas did just fine.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    Nice!

    There’s no game, at its core, that’s quite as pure (or nearly as interesting). I still play in the local leagues, and until you get out on that field, I don’t think you realize just how complicated it truly is. There are a hundred things happening on every pitch. It definitely gives you a better appreciation for what you’re watching when the Royals take the field.

    Anyway,I’m fired up…it’s opening day!

  11. Smartman says:

    Baseball is a business
    With more concern for bottom line than the fans.

    Baseball is overpaid athletes and agents
    Who don’t appreciate the legacy they carry on.

    Baseball is $12.00 parking
    $5.00 Cokes and $3.00 hot dogs

    Baseball is owners more concerned
    With ROI than RBI, OBP and ERA

    Baseball is STEROIDS
    Baseball is “misremembered”

    Baseball is not
    Field of Dreams
    It’s
    Field of Schemes

    Baseball is not apple pie
    Baseball is
    A LIE

    • Kyle says:

      So you’re saying you’re a fan?

    • tiad says:

      “$5.00 Cokes and $3.00 hot dogs”?

      What planet are you living on, Smartman? We haven’t seen prices that low probably since Greg’s poem was first published in ’95.

      Although you are still a bit high on the parking rate at Mr. Ewing Kauffman’s stadium. (At least last time I looked.)

    • chuck says:

      Here, here…

    • The Smartman says:

      Wow! I’m impressed that you saved my version of Baseball is. Freaky. Guess I’d better start carrying the .45 with the Zombie Killers.

  12. Gavin says:

    Greg, every year I enjoy this poem and am grateful that you post it.

    And every year I point out that the great lefthanded Dodger pitcher, the Jewish one who refused to pitch on the Sabbath, the one who was forced into early retirement because of arthritis, spells his last name K-O-U-F-A-X.

    It seems we have our own little spring tradition.

    • Greg Hall says:

      G, I really need to fix that in the master copy…but that would ruin our annual chat. I’ll get “Koufax” in the game at least for today.

  13. JP says:

    Great poem, really got me nostalgic. I grew up going to the ballpark with my Dad, watching the great Royals teams of the mid to late 70’s. My Dad hated Jack McKeon for trading Lou Piniella, but we watched on TV, listened on the radio and felt the emotions with every pitch. It was always a fun night going to the ballpark. 1980 is still my favorite sports year hands down. Solely because that Royals team dominated all summer, winning the AL West, watching George Brett’s 30 game hitting streak and quest for .400, and finally beating the Yankees in the ALCS. Even though they lost to Philfadelphia in the World Series (I spelled it correctly) , it was still a great and fulfilling year.

    Those memories still linger with me today, as we start another year of baseball. Great tradition regarding the poem, and I am looking forward to heading out to the K for another year of hopefully better baseball from the Royals.

  14. Grant says:

    simply amazing…great work

  15. Uncle Mo says:

    A nice pick me up after watching the Royals opening loss. I ran across this on your blog last year and have been a fan ever since.

  16. Mike DeArmond says:

    Greg, the words are wonderful, the voices make it grand. Thanks. Mike DeArmond

  17. Paul says:

    Baltimore’s Chuck Thompson was the voice of my childhood. Hearing him on here choked me up. Thanks Greg.

  18. Diggity Dawg says:

    Hate to be picky, but is there any chances of an MP3 version? I’m on a Mac, but I’d love to hear it.

  19. Arte says:

    Greg: As a long time reader of your blog, I’ve seen your poem several times and quite honestly thought yeah it’s alright.
    But then I heard those great voices read it. It was obviously meant to be heard and not seen. It’s terrific.

Comments are closed.