Blogger’s note: This is an essay I wrote for the Roy Hobbs Baseball World Series program. The four-week event started today and features more than 200 adult amateur teams and is being held on various Lee County ballfields.
Baseball historians may differ and dither over the sport’s Golden Age. Was it the 1920s with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig or a more recent decade?
Other types of historians may bicker about the Golden Ages of ancient Rome and Greece and the Renaissance.
Let them have their little debates. We have a premise that is indisputable, beyond contradicting by anybody, even the most learned professors.
Right now, today, here in Florida, next to swaying palm trees and on the green, green grass of beautiful baseball fields, is the Golden Age of adult baseball in America.
Revel in it. Embrace it. Tell your friends.
There’s never been a time like it before.
Until very recent years once a ballplayer was done with high school or college or for a select few pro baseball, the sport became a thing of the past, something only for the young.
Look around you now, look at your teammates and opponents, many with grey hair and wrinkles. These are not high school kids or even college youngsters.
No. In many cases, it has been decades since high school or college baseball.
Then stick your hand in a glove, smell the leather and the grass under your feet, feel the sun on the back of your neck, wipe that sheen of sweat off your brow and then take a moment and go look in a mirror at that spiffy uniform you’re sporting.
In our grandfather’s day or great-grandfather’s day there wasn’t anything like Roy Hobbs Baseball, a place for men long past boyhood to continue playing the game they love.
Yes, we’re living in a Golden Age. There wasn’t anything like it 100 years ago or 80 years ago or 50 years ago and 30 years ago we witnessed the first glimmerings of real organized adult baseball for players of, shall we say, mature years.
Now, adult amateur baseball has matured into its Golden Age.
Then there are those pristine fields, the ones at JetBlue Park or Centurylink Sports Complex or Terry Park and others.
These are not country pastures with base paths hacked out of weeds or rundown big-city ball fields with lips and dips or dirt infields speckled with rocks and pebbles and pockmarked with low areas begging for puddling rainwater.
These are fields where some of the greatest of all time played, from Ty Cobb to Lefty Grove to Bob Feller and Roberto Clemente and George Brett and dozens of other legends.
Here and now, today and tomorrow, men who didn’t play in the big leagues play on the same fields that were used by legends of yesteryear as well as some of today’s best players such as Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, Brian Dozier of the Twins and potential stars such as Miguel Sano of the Twins.
We share the same base paths and dugouts as Jimmie Foxx or Bill Mazeroski or Big Papi or Joe Mauer.
We hit where Kirby Puckett hit, pitch where Roger Clemens pitched and run the bases where Dave Winfield ran the bases.
Yes, this is a Golden Age.
Think back to what your grandfathers or great-grandfathers might have thought when they were your age about the chance to play baseball again.
To wear a uniform …
To bond with teammates …
To step onto ball fields …
To engage in that one-on-one pitcher/batter duel …
To win …
Even to lose …
To slap a single over a shortstop’s head and take a lead off first base or to feel once again that satisfying kerplunk of a fly ball landing in your glove.
They would have likely been agog at the very concept of wearing uniforms and playing real baseball on real fields with real wood bats at ages when men were supposed to sit on rocking chairs on the front porch and whittle.
Now, at the same age, 21st century men are bunting or throwing curveballs or smacking doubles into the gap.
Such opportunities weren’t available until the late 20th century and now into the 21st century.
In a sense every ballplayer’s personal Golden Age may have come when he was 12, no matter what year that was. It was at that age when the smell of your glove captivated you and your baseball card collection was nearly holy and the big-league stars were all impossibly magical, positively mythic figures on the level of ancient gods.
But there is another Golden Age. This one you may not realize you’re living through.
We’re in a Golden Age right now, playing on the manicured ball fields of Lee County in the Roy Hobbs World Series.
But a Golden Age can be more personal. It can be the memories of how we fell in love with the game as boys, when our baseball card collection contained sacred talismans and connections to the stars when we were 12.
Yes, that was a Golden Age for many baseball players and fans, a link to the time before we got distracted by girls and cars or girls and guitars or girls and, well, er, more girls.
Now, the girls are women and our teammates and opponents have enjoyed all manner of careers.
We play with butchers and lawyers, truck drivers and professors, plumbers and doctors.
You name a profession away from the sun-splashed diamonds of Florida and you might find Roy Hobbs players who engage in it.
But the main thing they do and the only one of consequence during the Roy Hobbs World Series is baseball.
Oh, you’re a judge back home? That’s nice. Can you play right field in the next game?
That’s more important.
Oh, you’re pizza delivery guy? Cool! Do you have any coupons? Hey, can you pinch run for Joe this inning if gets on base. That’s what counts here.
We’re all just baseball players under the Florida sun.
Ah, yes, this is a Glorious Golden age here under the Florida sun, a time every fall to play baseball, to cast aside the troubles of work and focus on one thing and one thing only – baseball.
Yes, the major leagues may have had any number of Golden Ages, things to be debated by historians, but every fall is a Golden Age in Roy Hobbs Baseball.
That’s beyond dispute or debate.
We have our uniforms and gloves, bats and balls, beautiful fields and all that sunshine and all those palm trees and another game today and maybe two tomorrow.
Revel in it. Embrace it. Tell your friends.