Our National Pastime

James Earl Jones said it best in the movie, Field of Dreams, “The one constant through all the years, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

Baseball has always been my favorite sport – I have been playing it since I was a kid. If my friends and I were not on a field playing baseball, we were playing stickball in the street. Growing up, I lived next to the woods. That is where we built our own baseball diamond and we would play rain or shine. That was our neighborhood version of “sandlot” baseball and we made memories to last a lifetime.

I have been coaching my own children’s baseball teams for the past nine years. There is nothing better in the world than to see one of your kids get their very first hit; it is priceless. One year, my son David’s team won the championship.  It was totally out of control. The team had four different parties and we celebrated like we had just won the World Series. That same year, David’s team also won the batting title for the league. It was the icing on the cake. This past season, my daughter Hunter’s (a.k.a .BabyGirl ) traveling softball team had an undefeated season of 17-0. To top it off, they won the championship. Along with their trophies and accolades, the team received jackets that were equal to any high school letterman jacket. The girls on the team were partying and having so much fun after their championship win. Let’s just say, nobody got out of there without being covered by silly string.

Growing up as a Philadephia Phillies fan,  I went to a lot of games. There is nothing like being at a game with 50,000 wild and crazy Phillies fans. It is so great because now I take my kids to Phillies games just like my Dad took me and my brothers to when we were young. My kids and I go to as many Phillies games as possible to keep the tradition alive. We included my girlfriend Jess in this tradition, even though she is not a baseball fan. She thought she would be bored but admitted that she was impressed by the Phillies fans and their passion. Last Christmas, I opened up one of my gifts from her and I was in total shock. It was an authentic Bad News Bears jersey.

Speaking of classic baseball flicks, there are many baseball movies that have also withstood the test of time. There are so many classic baseball movies that it is hard to just talk about a few. You can go back as far as the movie, “The Pride of the Yankees,” to the most recent blockbuster, “Moneyball.” There is a movie room at the Baseball Hall Fame in Cooperstown, New York. These baseball movies play there 24 hours a day, such as “The Bad News Bears” and “The Sandlot,” to name a few. Saint Rita became the patron saint of baseball because of the movie, “The Rookie,”  which was based on the true story of Jim Morris. One interesting fact is that there are two people that were inducted into the in the Baseball Hall Of Fame that did not play baseball. Those two people were Abbott and Costello for their classic comedy skit, “Who’s on First?”

Over the years, there have been many great baseball players and many records broken.  It is hard to say who was the best baseball player ever.You can put a hundred people in a room and they could argue for days about which player they feel is the best. I can tell you this. On April 15, 1997, major league baseball officially retired the number forty-two. No other player in major league baseball will ever wear the number forty-two again. Fifty years prior to that date, Jackie Robinson played his first major league game. Some people say he was the best and I will not argue that. I will say that he changed the game. My personal opinion is that Ken Griffey Jr. was the best baseball player to ever walk on the field. As for the best baseball team in the history of the game, it is hard to disagree with mathematical statistics. The statistics show that the best baseball team in history would be the 1927 New York Yankees,  known as “Murderers’ Row.”

My grandfather, Andy “Gump” Toland, played semi-pro baseball for the Collingdale Cubs from 1935 to 1939. I have his team picture and contract in a frame at home.It is hanging up in my sons’ room along with all of their baseball pictures and awards. My grandfather passed away in 2000 at the age of 87. All the old timers at his funeral kept saying, “Gump had the best knuckleball they ever saw.” At the age of 78,  my grandfather went to watch a baseball game and one of the pitchers did not show up. All the oldtimers said to my grandfather, “Hey Gump – why don’t you go in there and pitch?” Gump pitched a complete game at the age of 78.

One of my favorite baseball quotes is, “We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.”

I guess nobody ever told Gump he could not play the childrens game anymore…

This article is dedicated to Andy “Gump” Toland
1913 – 2000
By
David Toland
L4L

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