The things I remember most about the game are the smell of leather, infield chatter, and the sweet taste of RED MAN chew. What I can’t remember is what happened after the pitcher released the ball – it just completely disappeared. I’d not see it again ’til it was bouncing in the outfield or sailing over the right-field fence. After hitting a baseball you can never recall how you did it. Everyone can tell you how it feels, no one can tell you the secret to doing it. One thing I can tell you for sure – I could never keep my eye on the ball. I didn’t even try.
Later in life after taking up golf, I came upon a quote from Ben Hogan in which he may have actually revealed the secret to hitting a golf ball so well. Legend had it that Hogan had a secret in his swing and people never gave up asking him about it. The quote struck home with me and went something like this: “Well, at the top of my backswing the ball just completely disappears and that’s all I can remember.” Hogan was utterly humorless but as soon as I read it, I smiled.
The Glory of Baseball
I still love baseball. I love having it on the radio in the house. I love going to games, though I hardly pay attention – I just bask in the sounds of the ballpark. But the glory of baseball is anybody can play. You don’t have to be six foot ten, run the 40 in 4.4, or be thin, or great, or young, or old – none of that stuff is required in baseball. My Mom used to pitch to me. You don’t have to be a boy and you don’t have to be a girl. It’s America’s finest game. But the next time someone tells you to keep your eye on the ball, don’t listen. And if you see Cindi Ortiz, let her know her HOLDSTER is between pitchers mound and home plate at Stude Park – I’m sure she’s missing it. She’s a lefty, and in baseball that’s an advantage. Trust me.
Growing-up in rural Western Pennsylvania and Northern Kentucky, everybody played ball – in open pastures on makeshift diamonds with paper plates for bases … it was gender and generational neutral
I got to see the Pirates play once at the old Forbes Field – what a treat
In Pony League, High School, and American Legion ball in Greenup County, Kentucky in the late ’60s, we were fortunate to be coached by ex-professional ball players who lived in the area, and to have played in old minor league parks, learn to hit major league homers, and have lefty Don Gullet as one of our starting pitchers … we learned the fundamentals of baseball from real pros, our teams would go to post-season, and Gullet would go right to the majors, play on 6 World Series teams in 8 years – 4 of them in consecutive years on two different teams, ending-up with 3 Championship rings and all of it in the ’70s – never has anyone crammed so much glory into one decade … another of our teammates, Terry Craft, went on to a long career as a major league umpire … it was a golden age for young men and boys who loved baseball in Northern Kentucky – there’s never been a time like it before, or since … it was great luck to have been there and no accounting for any of it
“Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons” is short, ancient, and still the most influential book ever written on the art of hitting a golf ball and maybe any kind of ball … when I first read it, I was amazed how applicable it was to the art of hitting a baseball … in Five Lessons you can learn the fundamentals of the grip, the stance, the swing, and the follow-through and within 6 months that damn Hogan expects you to break par … but nobody ever does … people think he left something out and to this day Hogan is believed to have taken “the secret” to his grave in Fort Worth’s Greenwood Memorial Park
In recent years it was discovered good hitters don’t keep their eye on the ball – somehow they divine where it’s going to be and swing there … I believe Ben Hogan, at the top of his backswing, visualized the ball going down the fairway and that’s why it disappeared
Anybody can play baseball – anybody can be taught the fundamentals of how to grip the bat and the ball, how to stand in the batter’s box, how to bend at the knees fielding a grounder, how to bunt, steal a base, and even throw a curve, but nobody can teach you how to make the ball disappear
Once in awhile, I pull one of the homeruns from my sock drawer, grip it, smell the leather, and shake my head in disbelief … and smile
I’ve never met Cindi Ortiz but her HOLDSTER really is lying between pitchers mound and home plate at Stude Park in The Heights here in Houston
April 19th 2017