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Commentary: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

By Joe Marren

Buffalo, NY – I'm a college professor and my mind is still wrapped around grading and testing. So let me start with a simple quiz. See if you can pass it and become the hit of the boozy crowd during your neighborhood tavern's Happy Trivia Hour:

Here it is: It's (almost) summer and what major sport dominates the news? a.) hockey b.) basketball c.) football d.) baseball e.) all of the above

The answer is "e," all of the above, of course. What kind of sports fan are you if you didn't know that. Here's why:

Hockey: There was a time when the Sabres were still playing this time of year. But right now I'm rooting for that iced-over hotbed of Tampa Bay to fight for the right to drink from Lord Stanley's Cup. Think of the lore that will go with the trophy if one day the purists can chuckle about how Gord-Pierre Guy LaMcSoviet kicked it into San Francisco or Tampa bays, just like those gap-toothed Ottawa players did a generation or so ago.

Basketball: Well, the playoffs are going on, so I've heard. Frankly, I haven't paid much attention since Bob Lanier retired.

Football: Does it ever end? We had the draft in April, the mini camps ad nauseam, and training camps open in July. If it's summer, it must be football season.

Baseball: It used to own this country like Donald Trump owns bad barbershops and the "You're fired" phrase. But many people lost interest when they realized it would take them a century to earn the moolah a utility infielder makes in a career; when they learned Pete Rose knew more bookies that left-handed pitchers; and when they found out that home run hitters kept books on pharmacopoeia. By contrast, Teddy Ballgame, the greatest hitter who ever lived, kept a book on opposing pitchers.

Still, I'm thinking of getting interested in baseball again to take my mind off the fact that the mission may never be accomplished in Iraq, or that I probably have more money in my meager bank account than the City of Buffalo has in its coffers. I bet I get more credit card apps and e-mail from the Nigerian finance minister than City Comptroller Andy SanFilippo does.

There are two main reasons why I'm singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" again these lazy, hazy days of summer. Slip into somnambulance with me while I explain.

One of the reasons is because Sean Kirst last year wrote a book about the game. Titled "The Ashes of Lou Gehrig and Other Baseball Essays," it's really an ode, a series of lyric and loving poems to the idea of playing just for the sheer fun of it all as the shadows lengthen across memories.

Sean has been a friend of mine since we toiled together, laughed together, drank together and snuck out of the Niagara Gazette newsroom together to play table hockey back in the mid-80s. Honesty compels me to admit he is one of the best writers I know, and there isn't a day goes by that I don't envy him his talent.

The other reason I love baseball again is because I met Buck O'Neil back in September. I wormed my way along with a private tour of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City the Royals gave to their top farm prospects. With my protruding gut and graying hair, O'Neil obviously knew I wasn't a major league prospect. But he didn't ask me to leave. In fact, at the end he shook my hand.

And along the way he told us about how it was back then when people couldn't play in the majors because their skin wasn't the same color as a white baseball, how they sometimes had to sleep on buses, or how restaurants wouldn't serve them. But they played anyway. Sometimes in big towns, sometimes in little towns, sometimes in other countries, sometimes in green cathedrals, sometimes in slap-dash parks that had never seen grass. They played simply because they loved to play and be young.

"Baseball is the best game in the world," O'Neil told us that day. "Play it with your heart."

Listener-Commentator Joe Marren is an assistant professor of communications at Buffalo State College.