My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for the ‘Yankee Baseball’ Category

The Revenge of Johnny Kucks

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/05/2009

I probably have ADD, although when it comes to staying on-task, I think of it more as “SUBTRACT.” In any case, even though I haven’t written it yet, I’m already bored with the story of how I happened to move to Kentucky. For three or four months before the fact, I’d been telling it to everyone I know. Repeatedly. So they’re sick and tired of it, too. Yeah, I promised I’d “explain how I happened to make the big move,” but the tale seems like a yawner. Suffice it to say that my wife got a great job here in Lexington, and – since my cat and I are both capable of doing whatever it is we do regardless of where we live – we tagged along. I can’t speak for Woody, but I hated my thirteen-hour drive trapped in that little box. Who can stay entertained for so long with nothing but a fuzzy mouse?

What I want to talk about today is spectator sports. I hate ‘em. That’s because I don’t see how my life is affected at all by whether my home team wins or loses – unless I happen to have a bet going. If I want to brag about something, I kind of feel like it should involve my own accomplishments, rather than those of some guys I don’t know and probably wouldn’t be pals with even if I did. It’s hard for me to imagine sitting down with a person wearing a number on his back, and having a discussion about Dickens, or Darwin, or Miles Davis’s fusion period, or 50s TV cereal commercials, or who’s funnier: Woody Allen or Mel Brooks, or which wines go least badly with Chinese food, or is it really possible for any news organization to be fair and unbiased, or … oh, any of a thousand other subjects that interest me. (In fact, I can think of only three subjects that don’t interest me: (1) sports, (2) Bob Dylan’s musical oeuvre, and (3) whether or not I should eat more fiber.)

Given my normal attitude about spectator sports, I was surprised to find that, deep down, I actually gave a rat’s ass about whether or not the Yankees won the World Series. I didn’t follow the team all year, and, in fact, I haven’t followed them since 1961, when I was twelve, and Mantle and Maris were trying to break Ruth’s record.  Even then, I didn’t much care whether or not the team won; I just liked the freedom of going to the ballpark “alone.” “Alone,” by the way, means: in a group of at least fifteen other rowdy twelve-year-old boys, without any evident parental supervision, although sometimes a stray dad would sneak into the pack.

On a game-going day, I’d grab my unused baseball glove (just in case a ball was hit directly into it, because there was no other way I would ever catch anything), join a gang of similarly accoutered friends, ride the bus up the Bronx’s Grand Concourse for about an hour to Yankee Stadium, pay my half a buck, and head for the bleachers, which were the hottest, most uncomfortable location in the world. Then I’d spend three or four hours eating ballpark hotdogs oozing with yellow mustard, drinking Yogi Berra’s Yoo-Hoo (which my mother made me take with me from home, in a thermos), and yelling whenever and whatever I pleased, even if a dad was around.  Some of us gambled for baseball cards between innings, but nobody ever wanted mine, because I carried only a few that I’d inherited from an older cousin. I had no current Mickey Mantles or Roger Marises, or even Moose Skowrons and Clete Boyers; my cards were a couple of years old and had players like Eli Grba (you read that right), Jerry Lumpe (pronounced “Lumpy”), and Johnny Kucks (feel free to provide your own junior-high-mentality joke).  During the action, I kept the most anally perfect scorecard I could, because it was clear to me that my scrawl would be the only permanent record of the game – even though I could never remember if the outfielder positions were counted 7 to 9 from right to left or left to right, and, hey, which side is right field, again? FYI: Mickey Mantle, whose uniform number was 7 but whose position number was 8, did not hit 61, but Roger Maris, whose uniform number was 9, and who, as right fielder, was in position number 7 or 9, did. But with an asterisk.

Anyway, before the playoffs began this year, I couldn’t have named more than four or five current Yankee players, mostly the ones, like Jeter and A-Rod, who had been in the news for sleeping with famous women. I’d never heard of anyone named Melky or Joba, and although I’ve known some people called “Swisher” (back when I still had that junior-high mentality), it was not a name I usually associated with baseball.

But there I was, sitting on my couch in Lexington, Kentucky, rooting through all the play-offs and the World Series for the Yankees. I yelled at the television whenever an umpire made a bad call against “us,” and high-fived the air when “we” scored runs or turned a neat double-play. Every four or five minutes, my wife would come into the living-room and ask, “Is that stupid thing over yet?” And then, “When did you all of sudden become a baseball fan? What’s next? Am I gonna hear you singing ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ (Please, not the whole thing!). Or wondering what you can take to fight irregularity?”

Not likely. (I’m nothing if not regular.) I’m certain that my fleeting obsession with the Bronx Bombers has a lot to do with my move from New York City (via Florida) to Kentucky. But I also fear that there’s something more pathetic, maybe even sinister, involved: a yearning for lost youth.

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Posted in New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ..., Yankee Baseball | 4 Comments »