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Travel to Baseball Heaven

It's a place where the grass is real, the players are friendly and all the things that made the sport great are on display again.

October 28, 2008|CHRIS ERSKINE | Erskine is a Times staff writer.

First of all, in Baseball Heaven no one spits. No seeds, no chew, none of those long streaming Niagara Falls you see every 30 seconds on TV these days -- in high definition, no less. This is why I paid two grand for my TV -- to watch millionaires spew like hillbillies?

Well, in Baseball Heaven, there is none of that. The players can adjust their privates publicly and wipe their mouths with both sleeves. After all, this is hardball, not the opera. It's just the ever increasing amount of spitting we detest.

But while we're building our Baseball Heaven -- the perfect park, the perfect day -- let's do away with artificial turf. As Richie Allen once said, "If a cow can't eat it, I don't want to play on it."

In fact, in Baseball Heaven, there are no indoor fields, certainly not a Tropicana Field. The turf at that awful Tampa Bay field looks like the outdoor carpet surrounding the ice machine at a cheap Southern motel. There is mold, I'm sure. You could wipe out the Taliban with the spores that have accumulated behind second base. That spot where everybody spits.

Yes, in Baseball Heaven every stadium is outdoors, with dry Dodger air and the rugged San Gabriels as the perfect purple backdrop.

And in Baseball Heaven, we have certain codes of conduct, strictly enforced, though all the players pretty much abide by them. The codes of conduct include bad haircuts and weird beards. For example, have you noticed the Rays' dugout? Like a gang of car thieves. You can't go purely by appearances, sure, but how else are we supposed to judge strangers? And they don't get much stranger than the Rays.

Of course, the Rays aren't the only team with image issues. In Baseball Heaven, no one gets to wear their pants like pajamas, curling beneath their cleats. No, in Baseball Heaven, all the players wear their knickers just below the knee, so the stirrups show in those great, bright baseball hues, colors reserved for baseball socks and national flags.

See, in Baseball Heaven, we're suckers for tradition. There is no designated hitter. No free agency till after you've played 12 years. If the fan behind home plate pulls out a cellphone and waves to the folks watching at home, he'll spontaneously combust.

In Baseball Heaven, we'll do away with those scoreboards that look like Vegas on acid. In Baseball Heaven, all fields are as green and lush and marvelously simple as Wrigley or Fenway. There's an ancient tavern down the block where Harry Caray, Bob Prince, Mel Allen, Red Smith and Jim Murray tend bar after each game. In Baseball Heaven, Vin Scully calls every inning. The faint scent of a good cigar drifts from the press box. Plaschke wears a bowler.

In Baseball Heaven, hot dogs are a buck and peanuts (double-baggers) 50 cents. Kids who show up at the gate with straight A's on their report cards get in free. They can bring their dogs.

In Baseball Heaven, the owner sits up in the stands, not down with the mayor or Barbra Streisand in what amounts to the first-class section. No, the owner sits up with Sid the butcher or Miguel the roofer, who worked the weekend in order to bring the kids along to a Tuesday game. That's where the owner sits, with the people who have sacrificed to be there.

In Baseball Heaven, the wind is always blowing out yet there's a no-hitter going into the sixth. Drysdale is on the mound and Mays is in center. Clemente is in right, of course, hands on his knees, daring the ball to come to him. In the outfield, there's a sign that reads: "Hit this spot, win a suit."

In Baseball Heaven, your dad is in the seat next to you, just as he was at your very first game. He shows you how to keep score again, even though you already know. He smells of after shave.

You buy the old man a beer (50 cents) and then another, because you don't wait in line in Baseball Heaven, they bring the stuff right there to your seat.

And you're so close to the field, you can smell the smoke from Gibson's high heater or hear Durocher or Stengel barking at the rookies.

"Sit down, kid," Durocher says. "We'll call ya if we need ya."

That's Baseball Heaven, featuring all the little things that somehow slipped away. You don't get nostalgic in Baseball Heaven because everything you loved about the game is all right there.

Batter up. DiMaggio's on deck.

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chris.erskine@latimes.com

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