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World Series, 1994, May Be Dead--But Baseball Remains Eternal

October 16, 1994|W.P. Kinsella | W.P. Kinsella is the author of "Shoeless Joe," which became the movie, "Field of Dreams." His new novel, "The Dixon Cornbelt League," will be published by HarperCollins

SURREY, CANADA — This is not about anger, though I am very angry. But the current situation of major-league baseball being in suspended animation for the fore seeable future, with two groups of millionaires alternately drawing lines in the dirt, has nothing to do with the game of baseball itself.

Baseball is urchins playing catch with a soggy ball and worn-out gloves, standing on a sunny spring sidewalk because the yards are still covered in collapsing snow.

Baseball is sitting on a bleacher in the humid summer dusk, fireflies peppering the nearby night, watching the wanna-bes strut their stuff.

Baseball is beautiful silences, where all the permutations and combinations of what might be the next time the ball is in play are mulled over.

Baseball is a game of anticipation. It is the chess of sports. The ballet of sports.

How am I going to spend World Series week? For me, there won't be tapes of Ken Burns' documentary on baseball, no rereading of "The Celebrant." No videos of "Fear Strikes Out," or even "Field of Dreams." Recalling the purity and innocence of times past only reminds me of the avariciousness of today's players and owners. I seldom get much fiction written during the playoffs and World Series. This year will be different. I'll console myself with the thought that, at least momentarily, I am earning more than Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr.

I'll enjoy the burning-leaf smell of October. I'll take refuge in my own writing--in my fantasy worlds where players and management have some respect for the fans and the game, and don't grossly overestimate how much major-league baseball fans care and how much disrespect they will tolerate.

This, too, shall pass. It is the game we fans are in love with. We can outwait the present crop of ingrates. I don't want to hear from any of them about how much they love the game. If they did, there would be a World Series.

Where does it all begin? Memories of the 1944 World Series, my first, are like dreams. I was fascinated by the name Sherman Lollar. I knew the Cardinals were playing the Browns--my father cheered the Browns, but I liked the Cardinal logo. Solid memories don't come until 1946. Cardinals again: Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, Howie Pollet, Enos (Country) Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Joe Garagiola. I cheered the Cardinals over the Red Sox, remember the wild thrill of my team winning. Of dancing around on the scarred green linoleum of our kitchen.

I remember how my dad loved the World Series. He never objected if I wanted to miss the first hour of class at grade school in order to listen to the World Series on radio.

"It's only once a year," he'd say to my mother. "He's just a boy, let him enjoy himself," he'd say, when my mother announced that he would have to write my excuse to the teacher, for she was not about to lie for me.

My dad had no one to write notes for him. He had to work at the backbreaking business of plastering houses--and could only listen to the games on weekends. I remember after the American League playoffs in 1948, running toward the bus stop to meet him, hollering before he was within hearing, that Lou Boudreau had gone four for four, and that Cleveland would be in the series. Then, after the first game, relating on the short walk home from the bus how Bob Feller had lost 1 to 0, even though he had made a perfect pick-off of the runner, Don Masi, who eventually scored the only run.

Saturday and Sunday we would listen together, the Indian Summer sunshine spilling like molten gold across the kitchen floor. How times have changed. I'm told that Indian Summer is now referred to as the Native American post-vernal-equinox weather phenomenon.

I remember those great Octobers. Bill Stevens one out away from the first World Series no-hitter, his moment of glory postponed forever by Cookie Lavagetto. Al Gionfrido's miraculous catch off Joe DiMaggio's bat. Don Larsen's perfect game. Bill Mazeroski homering to beat the Yankees. The agony of Willie McCovey making the final out in a Yankee victory. Carlton Fisk willing the ball to stay fair, in what I consider the greatest game in World Series history.

The World Series was my father's only holiday. The radio was our time capsule. For though we talked about someday attending a World Series game, it was the trip my father would never take. I can see him in his faded bib-overalls, sitting sideways at the kitchen table, staring at and listening to the cathedral-shaped radio, attached to the long black-and-white striped battery that provided our connection to the outside world.

Baseball, of course, is fathers and sons.

My father, who had played minor- league ball in Florida and California, settled down late in life on an isolated farm in rural Alberta, where I spent the first 10 years of my life--thousands of miles from a major-league ballpark.

The only baseball broadcasts we received were the World Series. My father talked a good game. He used the annual radio broadcast and a dog-eared copy of the St. Louis Sporting News as teaching tools. I knew how to read a box score and who the baseball heroes of the '40s were and how to execute a suicide squeeze, though I had yet to see a professional baseball game.

The game we loved with such passion is still out there, ephemeral as gossamer, whispering words of love only the true fan can hear.

The World Series of 1994 may be dead, but baseball is alive. It lives in all the dark ballparks of North America. Players and owners may be doing their best to kill the game, but unlike them, baseball is immortal, waiting, hushed in time, until the moment is right for its return.

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