It's here--Spring Training has begun, and all is right with the world. For so many reasons, baseball is the sport I enjoy the most, and I am glad that Southwest has relationships with most of the major league teams. Every year about this time, baseball moves toward the front of my consciousness. One of my favorite movies about baseball isThe Natural because it represents redemption on a grand scale with Roy Hobbs overcoming his demons. Randy Newman's score serves to make the finale one of the most stirring moments on film. Another is Field of Dreams, and I admit that I usually am sobbing out loud every time I watch it. I always wait for the part near the end when James Earl Jones, as writer Terence Mann, tells Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) not to sell his farm because people will come: They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.
Like Ray (who was born the same year as I), baseball is a link to my childhood memories and my own late father. My first baseball game was at the one-year old Dodger Stadium on July 3, 1963. Sandy Koufax, my all-time favorite player, defeated Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in a five-run shutout (that only lasted one hour and 53 minutes), and we also got to see one of Dad's baseball heroes, Stan Musial, pinch hit in the ninth inning. Koufax struck out nine, walked none, and allowed only three hits. All three of those players are in the Hall of Fame today, and over my life, I have seen other Hall of Famers play like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Ryne Sandberg, Brooks Robinson, and Carl Yastrzemski. Plus, I played Little League against George Brett.
However, the Dodgers remain the team of my childhood. I can still recite the 1963 Dodgers starting lineup, and this was really the last Dodger team to have strong ties to the old Brooklyn Dodgers, (the Boys of Summer) with Brooklyn veterans like Johnny Roseboro, Johnny Padres, Don Zimmer, Junior Gilliam, third base coach Leo Durocher, and manager, Walt Alston. (Both Alston and Durocher are in the Hall too.) Even Koufax and Don Drysdale (another Hall of Fame member), who are more closely associated with Los Angeles, played in Brooklyn. I devoured everything I could about Dodger history. (How many of you know where the Dodgers played in Los Angeles from 1958 to 1961 before Dodger Stadium opened?) If a genie suddenly appeared before me with three wishes (yeah, fat chance of that happening), my first wish would be to see the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers play in Ebbetts Field. Oh to see Duke Snider patrolling center field, the courageous Jackie Robinson stealing home, Pee Wee Reese turning the double play at short, and the equally courageous Roy Campanella (who would later face much physical adverstiy) behind the plate catching.
On a personal level, Dad was never really a baseball fan until we moved to Los Angeles, but he shared my passion for the Boys of Summer. On our Sunday drives, the car radio was always tuned to Vin Scully broadcasting the Dodgers on KFI Radio, and my love of baseball has much to do with Vin's magnificient voice and wonderful stories. (Scully had begun his broadcasting career with the Dodgers in Brooklyn.) In 1965, Dad had a heart attack, and I remember visiting his hospital room and listening to Dodger spring training games, while he recovered. Later that season, I was already in bed for school the next day, but he woke me up so we could listen to the last inning of Koufax's perfect game against the Cubs. (Click here to read a transcript of Vin's broadcast.) Like Ray Kinsella, I'd give anything to have a game of catch with Dad again, but at least, as Terence Mann says, baseball "reminds us of all that was once good and that could be again."
It's time for you to take your family to your own Field of Dreams. Southwest can fly you to Spring Training in Arizona or Florida, and we serve most of the major league cites. Use the money you save on air fare to buy souvenirs for your kids (or you!) and buy a "beer and a dog" for me while you're at the game.