There’s just nothing like getting new baseball DVDs and books in the mail. When I was a kid, players like Don Mattingly and Dwight Gooden and Ozzie Smith were common household names. Now, whenever one of the great ball players from my childhood appears on TV, I find myself explaining what was once common knowledge. I remember my own father doing the same with me for names like Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench. When my copy of the Baseball’s Greatest Games set from A & E Home Entertainment/MLB Productions finally arrived, all those memories of sitting with my dad and watching baseball on Saturday afternoons in front of the family TV came flooding back.
I actually bought a copy of this set for my dad last Christmas. He loved it. It wasn’t long before he was calling me to share a memory he had of watching one of the games in the set – the 1960 World Series Game 7 between the Yankees and the Pirates. He was in high school in a small town called Sarcoxie, MO. The school had opened its gymnasium to the public so everyone in the town could crowd into the tiny country school and watch Game 7 together on the town’s biggest television. You can imagine how “big” that set actually was in 1960.
It’s those connections to the past – perhaps baseball’s greatest strength – that get me excited about old games on DVD. As a writer, you learn that nothing helps a reader engage your story like sense of smell – a few words here and there describing how a character’s shirt smells like fresh laundry, or how a run-down cabin in the woods smells like an odd mixture of mold and fresh bacon. For fans, the intermingling aroma of salty popcorn and hotdogs on the grill – and perhaps the hops and suds of a fresh beer – can instantly transport them to the ballpark.
For fathers and their children, that path to rich and colorful memories is baseball. It crosses generations, connects children of the past with children of the present, and gives fathers and their children something to talk about during a phone call miles apart.
But these DVDs aren’t only good for remembering games long gone – they also make the superhuman…well…human.
As a relatively young fan, I’m aware of names like Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk. Thanks to my father’s obvious love of the Hall of Fame catcher, I have a special appreciation for Johnny Bench. But because of the years that separate me from these great players, I don’t have first-hand memories of watching any of them play. As a result, they tend to take on mythic status, existing only in story and stat sheets, or mentioned in obscure comparisons to players I’m infinitely more familiar with during present-day broadcasts. These recordings of games played long ago change all that. They bring the legends home. They make the mythic…normal.
Take the 1975 World Series Game 6 disc – the legendary game between the Reds and Red Sox that saw Carlton Fisk will his home run fair. In the first inning of watching that game, I watched Pete Rose, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Sr., and Carl Yastrzemski. The feeling was surreal. And I came away with a secret love and appreciation for Yaz’s smooth swing.
It’s an oddly wonderful experience watching these games. When I decided to watch that game, I almost expected to be bored enough by the third inning that I would skip ahead to Fisk’s home run and be done. It’s not that I don’t love watching baseball games…but I just didn’t expect a game using 1975 technology and camera angles to be all that engaging.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
These players from the past are less baseball players to me and more characters in some classic novel – a story that all children grow up listening to or reading for pleasure. But getting to watch these players actually play the game live on my own television at home…it’s like finding out Harry Potter, or Aslan the Lion, or Spider-man suddenly became real. It almost makes my father’s memories my own. And there’s just no way to put a price on that.
There are times when I wish I lived in the 1940s and had the chance to go to a game and watch the legendary swing of Stan Musial live and in person. But then there are times when I truly appreciate the era I live in…an age that possesses the technology and opportunity to not only reproduce games like these, but get them in my hands in a matter of days. Pulling out of the mailbox…it just makes me giddy.
Alright…that’ll do it for today. There’s a day game on between the Redbirds and the Brewers…sure would be a good start to my weekend if the Cards could pull out another victory and start the series 2-0. Here’s hopin’…