Just when it seems like the steady stream of news out of Washington dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, domestic spying and leaks of classified intelligence is putting us all on overload, a ray of sunlight breaks through the clouds… major league baseball players are in spring training and playing in an international tournament.
For those of us 50 and older, nothing surpasses the start of baseball season to bring a smile to our heart.
I know this may not make sense to the younger generation, but there are millions of us who grew up when baseball was still the undisputed national pastime, and we love it to this day.
In Washington, love of baseball crosses the partisan divide. Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito and former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt are passionate baseball fans. Alito grew up rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies and Gephardt has spent a lifetime cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals.
And we all know that our current president, George W. Bush, helped run a major league baseball team, the Texas Rangers, before entering politics.
There are lots of reasons why sports fans of my generation are first and foremost baseball fans. We grew up at a time when almost everyone played baseball (soccer had not yet caught on as a youth sport in most parts of the country) and so we have a good understanding of the game.
Also, we grew up during the heyday of radio, and baseball is the ultimate radio sport (it’s too slow-paced to be compelling television). The very best sports broadcasters were radio baseball play-by-play men, and since the rules almost never change (the DH being the main exception), and since the strategy is relatively uncomplicated, it is easy to follow on radio.
You can tune in at any point in a game, get the score, and quickly understand what’s going on. During baseball season, I always listen to a baseball game when I’m driving in either Washington or Texas, if one is on the air.
My introduction to sports on the radio was Harry Caray, who did the St. Louis Cardinals for KMOX and the Cardinals radio network long before he departed for Chicago. When I was growing up in Texas, there were no major league baseball teams in the South, and so the Cardinals network dominated the region.
Caray, like Vin Scully, Red Barber, Mel Allen and the other great radio baseball announcers, could paint a word picture that came alive in a youngster’s mind. Caray, by the way, was very average on television, where you could see the action rather than imagine it.
One of the other charms of baseball is that it has a long season. Your team isn’t doomed if it loses one or two key games. There’s plenty of time to make up for a slow start. And with just a few exceptions, its stars are normal-sized men for their age rather than excelling because they weigh 300 pounds or stand seven feet tall.
You can identify with a baseball player even if the skill level is far in excess of anything you ever possessed as a teenager.
Baseball also seems to have a way of renewing itself. Starting with Jackie Robinson in 1947, African-Americans brought a new excitement to the game. There were stars like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson. And now, just when many gifted African-American athletes are turning their attention to basketball or football, along comes a new generation of Hispanics who have become many of baseball’s greatest players.
Today, Alex Rodriquez, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Albert Pujols are the new marquee players. The Dominican Republic is fielding a great team of U.S. major league baseball players in the current international tournament, and other Latin squads are very competitive.
And let’s not forget the Japanese and Korean stars who are also now showing they can play the game at the major league level.
One other interesting side note – politicians love baseball. The new Washington Nationals baseball team was an instant hit last year in the most political of all U.S. cities. House Democrats and Republicans play an annual baseball game (one of the very few times that they still get together on a bipartisan basis).
When I served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1995 to 1999, the fundraiser that drew the greatest raves was our event at Baltimore’s Camden Yards the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak.
My wife gets annoyed that starting in April I read the sports pages to check the previous day’s baseball box scores before I read the real news in the first section. My response is that life is full of little joys and baseball ranks very high on that list.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.