Monday, December 18, 2006

Counting the days...

Where is that blasted game when you need it?

Never fails. About this time of year I start feeling antsy.

I plop in front of the tube about 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon and flip on the infernal machine. "Where's Skip and the Braves?" I wonder for a millisecond.

Then I remember. It's December. Instead, I get Joe Buck calling a pro football game on FOX.

Which is OK, cause I love football. But it will never take the place of my first love.

I can still see Murph playing right field. I used to idolize that man. I'll never forget his goofy grin and clean-shaven All-American looks. Part of me never has forgiven Dave Justice for taking his place in right. And I've been trying for years to forget that Murph was traded to the Phillies --- and ended his career in Colorado.

He's always a Brave. He's forever wearing those hideous powder puff blue unis. And he's running in from right at the end of the inning, when Skip or Pete tells you the score and you wait about two minutes while the TBS promos fly by.

So much of that is gone. Murph, of course. And Bob Horner and Claudell Washington and Gene Garber and Bruce Sutter and all those Braves.

So, too, for all practical purposes, are Skip and Pete, and games starting at 7:35.

And I can't stand it. I'm mad, depressed even. I'll only watch the Braves 35 times this coming season --- the 35 times they are on TBS. Time was, I'd see about 100 games a year. I'd even record them if I was going to be out. But no more. I refuse to suffer through bad baseball, which is what Fox Sports and Bob Rathbun offer.

I'm flirting with the thought of buying UT or Smokies season tickets this year. Just to keep me near the game. I'll admit the luster has worn off of the majors. A part of the game (and a big part of me) died during that strike year. Barry Bonds, Bud Selig and steroids have done nothing to help.

Even that brief, wonderful, "Yes, this game is still the greatest" interlude that was the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998 is now a forgotten mirage, full of lies, smoke and mirrors. This may be the first season in years when I don't bother buying opening day tickets in Atlanta. Just don't seem to see the point.

On nights when nothing is on TV (which is just about every night of the week anymore), I'll put on the Ken Burns documentary and watch Babe and Mickey and Duke and Campy and Denny McLain and Christy Mathewson and the other ghosts of the game rise from the mists of memory once again. It reminds you of what was once good, and could be again.

Minor league ball has become a favorite in recent years. For about $10, you sit right at field level. The hot dogs are a buck on Monday nights and the players still give a damn. Every now and then, you'll see a kid wearing a tee-ball uniform with a fresh face and a little glove on his hand. He's about seven and in love with the game and it reminds you of childhood, as well as why you still adore this silly 'ol game.

But here it is December. The college game begins in a couple of months, high school starts in March, the majors in April. Until then, you get by on pro football and college basketball and count the days until spring training.

Get here as fast as you can, springtime. That's all I want for Christmas -- for the sun to be setting just as the first pitch is thrown. The weather is always sunny and in the 70s (hell, that was today) and the game is always a 2-1 pitchers duel that isn't settled until the last frame.

Bring me a bat and a glove, Santa. I'm ready to play ball.

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