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Baseball still endures as national pastime

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POSTED January 2, 2009 11:35 p.m.

As a long-time sports fan, New Year Day 2009 wasn’t necessarily about football.

Even though pitchers and catchers are a few months away from reporting to their respective spring training camps in Florida and Arizona, Major League Baseball was tuned into my DirectTV household.

The MLB Network officially kicked off, bringing Hot Stove — a studio show dealing exclusively with off-seasons trades, free agent signings and player movement rumors — all-time great games not to mention plenty of baseball memories from over the years for 50 million viewers.

For many of us, the National pastime is sort of earmarked in our memory. We can remember specific time and dates.

My first pro sports experience took place at the Oakland Coliseum better known back in the 1970s as the “Oakland Mausoleum” for its sparse attendance. We weren’t aware back then that the Oakland Athletics were in middle of their three consecutive World Series championships.

Thanks to my childhood buddy, Henry, I was able to attend the A’s-Texas Rangers game in the middle of summer.

Conditions may have been sizzling hot in the San Joaquin Valley, but not so at the Oakland / Alameda County venue.

Thankfully, Henry’s Aunt Becky and Uncle Adrian came prepared with plenty of warm blankets.

As for the action on the field, we saw both a rarity and a low-point for the sports dynasty under then owner Charlie O. Finley. The A’s not only lost to the last-place Rangers but, in the process, were no-hit by pitcher Jim Bibby.

Years later, I had an opportunity to talk to Vida Blue. The former A’s and San Francisco Giants lefty took part in the ground-breaking ceremonies for Big League Dreams. Vida, who was the losing pitcher for Oakland on that particular day, lit up with a tremendous smile when I mentioned my first-ever MLB experience.

He, too, remembered that game as if it were yesterday.

Yes, it was on a Monday — half-priced tickets — family-night game,” said Blue, who was a five-time All-Star and winner of both the Cy Young and MVP awards.

While on the subject on no-hitters, I managed to catch the original telecast of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series affair at old Yankee Stadium against then cross-town rivals, Brooklyn Dodgers, on the MLB Network.
Broadcasters Mel Allen and Vin Scully were pair of familiar voices.

This was before westward expansion, color television, instant replay, and very limited camera angles.

At times, the black-and-white TV images appeared blurred, but there was no mistaking the long New York autumn shadows of the facade cast onto the infield from the “House that Ruth Built.”

Nor the vast left-center field alley in Yankee Stadium known as Death Valley. In the fifth inning, Yankee outfielder Mickey Mantle displayed his legendary speed by making a backhand grab of Gil Hodges’ 471-foot shot in that area to preserve the no-no.

From there, Larsen, who is later shown in studio with batterymate Yogi Berra, masterfully handled the Dodgers in the memorable Game 5 affair.

Another thanks goes out to the late David Halberstam. Because of his work, I’ve enjoyed reading about sports and life of that era.

Take the “Summer of ‘49,” for example. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author was able to capture the life-long bond between Boston Red Sox teammates Ted Williams, Bob Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio.

In Halberstam’s 2003 book, “The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship,” Doerr, Pesky and DiMaggio are revisited in their advancing years, taking a drive down to Florida to visit a dying Williams for one last time.

I’m hoping the new MLB Network will help rekindle many memories of the past.

We may not have lived back then, but I think we owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us.

Sports or not, it’s still part of our history.

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