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October 6, 2005

Surviving with Baseball

Norman M. Covert

How does one find solace from the main stream media’s daily barrage of rhetoric from the looney fringes of the Left? Television, you say? All 99 or so channels where even the commercials attempt to revive the anarchy of another time; and network sitcoms now celebrate the whispered taboos of a more genteel era.

Escape is difficult even when there are more than 99 channels to surf, but I found it just under the scoreboard a few days ago in Camden Yard when Jason Giambi lofted a baseball into the bleachers. It was a hoot. I was 12 years old again and it was as if the batter was wearing No. 7 for the Yankees – “The Mick.” He was “The Man,” and that was my Little League number.

The cares of the day vanished. I stood with the host of Yankee fans, who outnumbered the Orioles faithful, and yelled with gusto. The immediacy of the crack of the bat and 40,000 fans following the trajectory toward Eutaw Street is a moment every kid lives vicariously in his backyard.

Baseball, the man said in that movie, is the only constant we have in America.

There’s something about sitting in a good seat in right field, hearing the crack of the bat and seeing the ball soar like a rocket.

My first foray with the Orioles as a spectator – not a sportswriter as I was in another life – was a bus ride with soldiers and family members from Fort Detrick, making a night of baseball in Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street. It was fun being in the minority wearing a Yankee blue hat.

The Orioles whipped the bad guys that night in 1978. That Yankee team was George Steinbrenner’s first disaster at trying to buy a team of mercenaries. The only constant on that team was Don (Donnie Baseball) Mattingly, who was just out of the minors. The team finished out of the running. Mattingly now guides Yankee batters as their coach.

Now Hall of Famer Dave Winfield patrolled in left field and was of little offensive use that night, his team scoring only two runs. We figured each Winfield at bat that night was worth about $12,000 based on his salary for 162 games, averaging four times at bat.

Mr. Winfield, one of the vanguard of millionaire ball players, was inexpensive by today’s standards. Yankee 2005 third baseman Alex Rodriguez earns nearly $40,000 per at bat; shortstop Derek Jeter is paid about $31,000.

Their entertainment value might justify the cost, but the market is due a correction this year. Consider that the Yankees just announced they drew slightly less than five million fans to Yankee Stadium in 2005; and the team was a virtual sellout in every game on the road, except in Tampa Bay. Yankee bleacher seats in right center field cost in the neighborhood of $30.

The Orioles pay their star shortstop Miguel Tejada just over $10 million, about an average salary for the Yankees where Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, and Hideki Matsui command from $8 to $12 million in a $200-plus million payroll.

However, Camden Yard attendance averaged less than 25,000 per game this year, slightly less than the new Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium (29,000); Yankee Stadium averaged over 50,000, almost the population of the City of Frederick.

Certainly disappointing for Orioles’ management, when the Red Sox and Yankees played at Camden Yard the past week, there were fewer O’s fans in attendance. The night we attended, it appeared O’s fans stayed home while Yankee pinstripes and all manner of NY regalia roamed the aisles and dominated Eutaw Street.

Whither allegiance, Yankee fans spent their money and that’s good for the bottom line, out of which come nachos and a coke for $9.00; draft beer at $6.50; or Boog Powell’s ribs from $9 to $15 depending on the sides. Baseball apparently is worth the expense, though one would need a line item in the family budget (and tighten the belt) for frequent visits to Camden Yard.

[NOTE: Grove Stadium is a bargain – and don’t you forget how our Keys carried the day in the Carolina League.]

We now begin the annual ritual of October. Once again, the Orioles are facing a tough week and probably a long off season. Will their interim manager be rehired? We know Sammy, Raffy and Sidney are history, but can they keep the good veterans, perhaps even give our Frederick Keys’ Jeff Fiorentino another shot at the big time? Who will surround hotshot shortstop Miguel Tejada and classy catcher Javier Lopez? The annual conundrum.

October is time for the Yankees and Red Sox. It seems not long ago that it was the Dodgers and Giants battling at Ebbets Field or Cougan’s Bluff for the right to face the inevitable American League Champion Yanks. Today’s Left Coast Dodgers lost their bloom early this year and the Giants’ last gasp effort of fielding the fraudulent Barry Bonds was a ballyhooed team failure.

My Brooklyn-reared comrades can only hold on to memories and they still hate the Yankees. Yet, this is the week of the division playoffs and the Bronx Bombers start to drive me crazy again. My days of having to be an impassive observer in the press box created a discipline that sustains me when the Red Sox win at Fenway.

Baseball is a love-hate affair and we will watch the division series, then perhaps tough out the championship series, and with luck reach out for more than one brew to survive a World Series brouhaha. You never know when Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone or some other improbably hero will break a heart or bring you joy.

Not matter, it’s baseball. There will be no Mel Allen, Ernie Harwell or Dizzie Dean ‘splaining it for us on the radio, their likes can never be duplicated.

Thus, I will don my old lucky Yankee Blue cap (genuine hats are $25, authentic pinstripe shirts $190), open my scorebook and ignore the likes of Miz Pelosi and the other Democrats. Their drone will be muted by sunflower seeds, scratching and spitting the next three weeks.

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