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 / [email protected] / 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…
[email protected] / Twitter @greghall24