Small World: The national pastime passes on

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Mordecai, “Three-finger,” Brown. Those words sum up my life with baseball. As I see it, there are three categories that a fan of the national pastime can fit into: scholar, spectator and sandlot player. I sampled them all, but did best as a scholar and not bad early on as a spectator.

As a sandloter, however, I could never throw as fast or as accurately as skinny George Tyre, nor field at any position on the diamond as skillfully as my friends. Mostly, I played second base, where fewer balls were hit and there was a shorter throw to first base. Sometimes, I was the first baseman, which meant a larger glove and little throwing. A glove was the closest our bunch came to a team uniform.

But to get back to my success, I studied the game and could tell you who played practically every position on every major league team. I could reel off the batting averages of the players on the Savannah Indians, our hometown member of the Sally League (Class A) and a farm team of the Philadelphia Athletics. Not only that, I could discuss the As other farm teams in Martinsville, Va., Calgary, Canada and I think — the memory weakens — Lincoln, Neb.

The ultimate showing of my scholarly prowess came when I wrangled my way onto a local baseball talk and quiz show, The Hot Stove League. The other participants were aged adults, barely tolerant of a brash teenager. Yet, it was I who answered (I forget the question), “Mordecai, ‘Three-finger,’ Brown” and took home the prizes of the day. They included a giant jar of shaving cream (passed on to my uncle) and two steak dinners at an elegant restaurant. My father and I went to its kitchen door to take them home where we divided the steaks in four for the entire family.

So much for scholarship. Every summer in my mid-teens, my father would take my brother and me to almost every home game the Indians played. We sat in the grandstand behind the first base line. We had had supper so we never bought anything to eat or drink. Admission must have cost a quarter or so.

Our absorption in the game was total and we knew the players as if they were family members. Now, I can only summon up three names: Lou Brissie, an ace pitcher who wore a leg brace because of a wound suffered in the war. He later made it briefly to the As roster. Red-head Hockenberry was at third. He, like most of his teammates, was a Yankee. Then, there was my favorite — Joe Socey whom nobody else liked. Round-shouldered and distinctly unflashy, he played right field and only occasionally came through with an extra base hit. I guess I identified with his persisting effort and lack of success.

Coming to the present, I watched the Mets-Royals World Series games — at least some part of each and put a dollar on the former against my grandson’s bet on the Royals. Holding to the family tradition, he loves the game. His team for which he sometimes pitches finished unbeaten. He and his teammates are all outfitted in uniforms down to their rubber cleats.

Thinking over this mini-history, maybe it wasn’t I who dropped the game; maybe the game left me, as they say. They say that it will cost a small family well over $100 to see a major league game. That includes, I suppose, sumptuous servings of traditional eats. Then, if Sea Dogs games are typical, there is the foolish folderol that eats up time and distracts from the game.

Baseball ignores the clock — that has always been the case. Rituals must be observed. But something — is it the exigencies of television? — intrudes that creates greater delays. No one seems to care about time passing; there’s no time out, we know that. But maybe there ought to be a two-hour target that enables the umpire to speed the game along with penalties threatened.

Or maybe it’s my age-reduced attention span that has sapped my genetically-rooted interest in the great game.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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