Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Speedsters forever!

T'was the summer of '77 when I first started following baseball. My dad was into sports and so, seeing games on TV all the time, I naturally got into it. For the first few months I just rooted for the Yankees 'cause that was my dad's team. His favorite player was Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, the homerun guy.

As I got more and more into the game, watching different teams and ballplayers and started collecting cards, I began to appreciate the game from another perspective. My dad liked the obvious, the in-your-face, big homerun sluggers, the almighty New York Yankees...
I on the other hand really felt attracted to the more subtle aspect, the small-ball, the game within a game, the base stealing duels.
There was something about those speed guys, they just looked cool, usually smaller but with those ripping sprinters legs, and they had this defiant attitude to take on and irritate their opponents. They disrupted almost everybody on the opposing teams, starting with the pitchers who would do everything possible to avoid having them on, 'cause then they'd have to try and keep 'em close, pick 'em off, have to shorten their wind-ups, throw more fastballs, all things a pitcher hates being forced into. Then there was the catcher, who'd have to modify his stance to get ready to gun 'em down or get embarrassed trying, the first baseman had to stick to his base leaving his hole wide open, the middle-infielders also had to worry about facing these speeding, charging thieves, the outfielders knew they were going to have to charge every balls to prevent these speedsters from taking extra-bases on them. And finally there was the opposing managers and coaches who'd just try anything to offset 'em with pitchouts, and other gimmick tricks.

I really became fascinated by speedsters. Another spectacular thing these guys would bring to the game was the all-exciting three bag race around the bases. Even among sprinters, only a few could aspire at getting into double digits with this most rare of all hits. Of course right-handed batters were at a double disadvantage because of that extra step off home-plate and the fact that they hit mostly to the left side of the field. So that left mostly switch or left-handed hitters with the opportunity to entertain us with this most spectacular feat of quick feet.

Strangely, some baseball cards also left a very strong impression on me and had a tremendous influence on which players would become my favorites. For purely, subconscious, aesthetic reasons, like, the player looked cool, young, fast, I liked his pose, his uniform or even something as silly as he was wearing a shinny helmet... Hey, I was just a 10 year old, hard to figure out what happens in a kids mind lol... So when they both looked cool on a card and stole bases and hit triples, they became instant Hall Of Faves to me.

So in my first few fan years I'd just get all exited when I knew there was a game on with guys like Bake McBride, Lou Brock, Mickey Rivers, Ron Leflore, Garry Templeton guys who could steal and hit triples. I'd start watching games only for the blessed opportunity of seeing these speed wizards get on base and get a chance to start that thrilling cat and mouse game.
From that summer of 1976 to about 1989 I basically lived to follow these speed freaks, whether on TV, at the ballpark, through boxscores, cards or magazines, I just couldn't get enough. I'd settle for the NFL during the off-season but couldn't wait for each and every spring training to begin. Some winters I'd even do a countdown crossing-off calendar days one after another, 101 days 'til first stolenbase, 100, 99 lol...

I've often wondered why I became so passionate about these types of players, and still to this day, it's still a bit of a mystery to me. I guess part of the reason why I'm starting these blogs is to dive into it, headfirst, a la Rickey, to figure out why exactly it is that, 30 years later, I'm still fascinated about this particular era in baseball...
The 70's, the 80's, baseball's speed era, disco music, funky hair, cheap gas, Charlie's Angels and bubble-gum...

So whenever I find a little time between, my little daughter, my wife, work and work-outs, I'll be writing about these dashing baseball heroes of mine;

The Greatest, Rickey Henderson;

The Fastest, Willie Wilson;

Mr. Triple, Jumpsteady Templeton;
Mick The Quick, Mickey Rivers

Shake n' Bake McBride;

The Fastest White Man in baseball, Dave Collins;

Willie E.T. McGee;

The Secretary Of Defense, Garry Maddox;

The Thief, Ron Leflore;

Vincent Van Go Coleman;

Rock Raines,

and many more...

Stories, cartoons, videos, photos, comics, whatever I can put in here I will.