My Annual Tip Of The Cap / Baseball Is… How I Spent My Youth

Why do I post my Baseball Is… verse each Opening Day? Because of letters like the one below.

Mr. Hall,

I know that your poem “Baseball Is…” is over 20 years old now. But I just read it for the first time when I was researching the Cincinnati Reds’ opening day (which is tomorrow 4/06/2015). Of which I’m taking my son to his very first opening day. I’ll admit, your poem brought a tear to my eye thinking about my dad.

I remember him very vividly taking me out of my elementary school class “kidnapping me” as he called it, to my first opening day when I was my own son’s age. Him playing catch with me in the backyard and coming to all of my games. HE NEVER MISSED ONE GAME all the way from little league through college when I played for Hanover College.

My dad has been gone for several years now. But before he passed away from colon cancer, I am so thankful that he had the opportunity to hold my son and love on my boy for the last bit of time we had left with him.

I won’t write you a book any more than I already have, but thank you so much for bringing those great memories back through your writing and the reassurance that I will have many great memories to be made still with my son. It really made my day. God bless you. Sincerely, David

*****

I wrote Baseball Is… in 1994 just as the MLB Players union went out on strike. Our first son was just a few months old at the time and I asked myself how I would describe to him this game I so loved if the MLB players never returned. How would you explain baseball to a ten-year-old who had never experienced the game? That son is now 21 years old, as is this poem. These are the words I chose.

Baseball Is…

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 tape, Lovingly 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, five-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.

Click here 01 Track 1 to listen to the audio version.

[email protected] / 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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26 Responses to My Annual Tip Of The Cap / Baseball Is… How I Spent My Youth

  1. January says:

    Great column, Greg. Can’t wait for the season to start!

  2. Kevin B says:

    I love this every year. Thanks!

  3. Phaedrus says:

    Royals baseball is Mike Moustakas popping out to the shortstop.

  4. Hank says:

    I will be honest with you Greg, I am a grown man but I openly wept when I read this. Very touching and a brilliant piece of writing by you. You are a talent young man!

  5. mike t. says:

    nice, greg. always a good read. thanks for publishing again on opening day.

  6. JP says:

    The tradition continues!!! Hopefully this season makes it into late October for us.

  7. Hot Carl says:

    Baseball is that fat ass Billy Butler hitting into a routine DP.

  8. Gavin says:

    Every year I look forward to it and every year it lifts me up. I look forward to this more than I look forward to actual opening day, mostly because the Royals have conditioned me to expect them to crap in my face. And hey, look what they did today!

  9. trajan says:

    I loved baseball as a kid. I loved playing through highschool. I still appreciate college baseball and will occasionally watch the college w.series. But MLB sucks purple donkey dicks( and when I did like baseball I was a born and bred Cardinals fan so it wasn’t because my team sucked) and I dread this time of year when no sports are on tv, nothing on radio of interest and for the most part nothing in this wonderful column that doesn’t involve the inevitable disappointment of another Royals team. Wake me when the NFL draft is near. And then wake me when College Football starts.

  10. Juan Pablo says:

    Nice story but you are living in the past. Kids today do not like baseball. From what i read kids like football, basketball, soccer and maybe golf before baseball now.
    When my son has kids over they never play baseball. they will play basketball or football . I took my son out Sunday to the baseball field to play catch and hit some fly ball, the fields were empty. It is sad to drive around and see all the empty baseball fields at schools. I lived across for a school that had baseball fields and you never saw kids playing baseball, they played football and soccer on it.
    Baseball is a dying sport. it is slow and boring for kids today.

    • BlackJack says:

      Mostly agree. I still follow the Royals’ seasons, and watch them on TV, but nowadays MLS season is as much of milepost for spring as MLB season is; recreationally, most of the people I know and hang around with play soccer just as much or more than baseball. My son does not follow the Royals or MLB at all; he is a fan of La Liga and SportingKC

      • The Word says:

        Blackjack, sorry your son not only has bad taste in sports. But also has to listen to his sport in Spanish.

        But hey, one day Missouri or Kansas will pass gay marriage so you son won’t feel like a total freak.

    • The Word says:

      I’m sorry to hear that your kid sucks and has bad taste in sports. Put a baseball in his hands quick before he grows up fruity.

    • AaronB says:

      There’s a lot of good baseball being played by kids…it’s both of my boys favorite sport and my youngest, 9, is really into it, as are all of his friends. They’re already playing at a level I’d only dreamed of as a kid.

      I think it just depends on the area. Another factor that I’ve heard mentioned by the kids is the football injury issue. I know of a couple of parents who won’t let they kids play tackle. I don’t think they’re alone and I think it really could cause a growth spurt in baseball that hasn’t been seen in years.

      As for fields, around central MO it’s hard to get a field because there’s lots of teams competing for practice time. It can be done, but the demand is there. We had our opening day last night, great back & forth game for the kids, that ended in the dreaded tie due to time limits.

      • Joe Blow says:

        The hard part was never finding a field, it was finding someone that would let you use it.

  11. Hank says:

    I use to be a die hard Royals fan. Sadly, I can’t stand to watch them play and I am not sure if it is just old age setting in but the older I get the more baseball seems sooo damn boring. What a waste of time. Am I the only one who feels this way?

    • John says:

      Looking through these comments. I wonder how the last 18 months have affected fans like Hank and Jack.

  12. Jack says:

    Agree with Hank. Royals are prerennial loozers. Don’t waste your time watching that boring crap!

  13. Greg Pryor says:

    Greg, I posted your writing on my Facebook pages and attached your website.

    I am thinking positive about our Royals and feel that they will be in the race for a playoff spot in September…regardless of the 2 close loses in Detroit. I hope that everyone has a great day today at the K. I can’t lose today since I played for both teams!

  14. MightyMo says:

    A good piece of work. Probably worked in 1994 as a nostalgia piece for those of us who are now 40+. But in 2015, this work touches the soul of very few not collecting social security and has gone from nostalgia to history. This doesn’t invalidate it in any way, as it worked for its intended audience when it was written. A similar piece today would have to romanticize the steroid era. Think of what could be written about McGuire, Bonds, and Sosa if we hadn’t already dismissed them so quickly from legitimacy.

  15. Gavin says:

    Nice to see you back, Greg, even if only for a day.

    It’s also weird to see another Gavin, especially one who mirrors my own feelings on the Royals, except I don’t know what they did yesterday and I’ve let bygones be bygones after what happened last season. I don’t have high hopes for the playoffs this season, but last year I was sure they’d let me down and I also thought the Charlie Weis hire was a good, swing-for-the-fences, make-a-big-splash choice, so clearly I know nothing.

  16. Mike O says:

    Thank you, Mr. Hall. I know I read this several years ago and am very glad to be able to read it again. A wonderful collection of memories from a far gone era.

  17. miket says:

    kinda fun to read some of these comments so long after the fact. greg pryor’s from april 2014 was a bit prescient, wasn’t it? and a couple talking about how boring the royals are to watch and being perennial losers, kinda seems like from a different era (but one not so long ago!). even gavin’s from april this year not having high hopes for the playoffs, yet only 6 weeks later, we hold the best record in baseball, winning decisively over the division leading Yankees and Cards… and Detroit.

    greg… time to bring your blog back.

  18. barneymccoy says:

    No disrespect, but it sounds to me like you ripped off Ernie Harwell, one of the greatest MLB baseball announcers in history, in your “Baseball is” tribute. Did you give credit to Ernie for his inspiration? Don’t see it on your Web site. I became a personal friend of Ernie’s when I anchored and reported in Detroit and he was the master of them all. He was a great MLB Hall-of-Fame announcer for the Detroit Tigers who witnessed American history unfold during his six decades as a MLB play-by-play announcer. Ernie was a great poet, civic leader, humanitarian and former Marine. In my opinion, Ernie Harwell was the best of them all. Listen to Ernie’s original poem “Baseball is,” which he read at his HOF induction to Cooperstown in 1981 and tell me what you think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHVsFU4sSho

    • Greg Hall says:

      Barney,
      I share your respect for Ernie’s talents as he was one of my favorite voices of baseball. While both Ernie and I wrote lovingly about the game, neither he nor I have a patent on writing about baseball. My piece was written from my memories as a boy and how much the game meant to me, my brothers and the kids in my neighborhood. There are thousands of verses, books, movies and songs written about baseball. My inspiration for Baseball Is… came from the same place as many of those — my love for the game. I would hope there is room for them all to exist without one usurping another.

  19. Terry Ball says:

    Greg, great piece. The memories kept flowing back from my youth and the joy found in the game of baseball. W. P. Kinsella’s book “Shoeless Joe”, which was made into the movie “Field of Dreams”, has always been my favorite writing about the game but this runs a close second. In the book Kevin Costner is from Montana and moves to Iowa to go to college, A perfect match to my own life. Yes, we are fellow alums. I watched many Royals games back in the 70’s when they were a great team and must chuckle at the comments from April 2014. I am a die hard Cardinals fan and watch almost every game on MLB.com. As a child we pick the team near us or in my case the one that wins a lot. I started out a Yankees fan but changed to the Cardinals when Roger Maris was traded to the team for the 1967 season. Part of the beauty of the game is sticking with your team through thick and thin. Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Royals are the teams I follow and there have been some pretty lean years between the late 60’s until now. There are always great players to follow and exciting races. I think we loose the fact that baseball is a game played pretty much every day every day from early April until the end of October. Crowds can be sparse compared to an NFL game but if each week’s games were added up attendance would be comparable. The exception is of course in cities like St. Louis, KC, New York, LA etc. who can match an NFL or college football game in sell outs nearly every home game.

    Thanks for sharing, it is a timeless piece and I did recognize the Alou brothers you alluded to so I guess that makes me a baseball geek. A label I wear with pride. I just want to close by saying that I coached my 3 daughters fast-pitch teams from t-ball until they played on women’s teams. They still play to this day, out of college, married and working in their careers. Yes, kids are making other choices but the game is far, far from dying.

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