The Star-News


Crack of bat takes him back, back, back...

Fri, Apr 09 2010 03:43 PM Posted By: Ricahard Pena

In our little essay last week on spring we omitted one very important event of the season. This was done on purpose because we think that the subject omitted should have top billing. I am, of course, referring to baseball. 

We have often referred to the dearth of meaningful sports news between the Super Bowl and when some dignitary throws out the first ball and the umpire yells out the traditional, "Play Ball!" Oh, I know there is something going on at the present time known as March Madness. That's a bunch of colleges playing basketball to determine the national champ. So they crown the winner and two days later no one can remember the school colors. 


There are a few other sports also in the sports section, you know the kind,  those that are attended by parents and the next door neighbor. Soon, they too, will disappear. We must recall that in baseball we have the national pastime. The month of April will herald the season's start and it will not end until October. And
I,  like millions of others nationwide, will be one of the followers.

If I had to say that I had a basic sport it would have to be baseball. That is, of course, attributable to my youth. In my growing-up years baseball, in  some form or other, was our primary game. We could play ball on an empty  lot or on the street in front of the house. We could find some space in the local school yard and sometimes, if we were lucky, find a field in one of the local parks. We could play it with a tennis ball, a reasonably round rubber ball and even on some occasions, a real baseball or softball. And, oddly 
enough, it could be played with as few as two players and as many, well, as the entire neighborhood. 
As for professional teams we had no major league team to watch. The best we could do was a team in the Class A Texas League. But since we did not know any better we would root the local team on as if they were the Yankees or the Cardinals. Going to the ballpark was one of the major facets of our recreation. The local "Y" sponsored a program called the  "Knot Hole Gang." We could join this group and see the ball games for free. 

Of course, we were out in the bleachers, somewhere in left field, but it was  like the loges to us. My mother would give me 15 cents, 10 of it for  transportation there and back and a nickel for a frozen Milky Way. This was living in a great big way. 

When I left home and came to San Diego in the mid 30s the first two things I looked up was a local church and the ball park, both seemingly, in my mind's eyes, taking on the characteristics of shrines. We found them both  downtown, the cathedral and Lane Field. We became frequent visitors at both, dropping in most times that we came ashore. Lane Field was the epitome of a minor league park. It had all the amenities of such a venue up to and including the termites in the stands. "Cigars, cigarettes, popcorn and 
fresh-roasted peanuts," was the cry of the stadium hawkers. We sort of  ignored the hawkers being more intent on what was happening on the field. 

In later years we took Zula, our brand-new bride, to her first ball game.  Coming from a farming community she had never seen one. In a very short period she was hooked. I recall that in that first year of our marriage, 64  years ago, by the way, we made more trips to the ball park than to the movie houses. She knew the lineup of most of the Pacific Coast League teams and could cite the batting averages of most of the Padres players. 

For old times sake I might venture a journey to the new Petco Park and see  the Padres this year. Once will be enough. The last game I attended, I  recall, it was rather expensive with parking and food and other things. I  wonder if they still have Knot Hole Gang memberships at the Y?


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