Tuesday, January 11, 2005

TWIB Notes

Unfortunately, I found myself home sick today. It's an ongoing problem that seems to be getting worse, so I headed over to the doctor's office. While on the phone scheduling my appointment, I noticed that ESPN Classic was broadcasting an old edition of This Week In Baseball.

I think today's first edition, there were two episodes back-to-back, was from 1979. It was classic in every sense of the word. That unforgettable theme song. Mel Allen. The retro uniforms that weren't actually retro at all. Tons of Astro turf and multi-purpose stadiums to go around. It was as close to pure television bliss as one could find.

Of course, I grew up with TWIB. It was Must See TV, long before an ad exec every came up with the slogan. First, you watched TWIB, then the NBC Game of the Week, then played baseball until the sun went down. On many Saturday afternoons, the Game of the Week wasn't watched for very long. Or at all. It was TWIB, then out to the school yard for a full day of baseball.

As I watched this episode, I could recall so much of my childhood fascination with the game. Parker, Winfield, Lynn, Rice, Rose, Yaz, Ryan, Reggie, Seaver. The new teams in Toronto and Seattle. Comiskey. Fenway. Tiger Stadium. The Big A in Anaheim. The Yankees versus the Red Sox. TWIB was more than the premier highlight show, it was our link to the game nationwide and a weekly history lesson in the game.

The show brought back to me the sights, sounds, emotions and, yes, even the smells of an era long gone. I had thoughts of our games in a school yard. Clear summer days, diving catches and no one allowed to hit to rightfield.

I remembered that first trip to Cooperstown. I remembered our old dog who, on occasion, would wander over to our makeshift ballfield when he escaped our backyard. I remembered the three games a day: The one before lunch. The one between lunch and dinner. The one we played until we couldn't see the ball in the dark. Then beginning the process anew the next day.

Clearly, Allen's voice resonated with me far past the confines of my living room. I did, however, begin to feel sorry for the youngsters of today. Not only do they not get to enjoy This Week In Baseball the way my generation did, they'll never enjoy baseball as I know it. As the generations before me knew it.

Baseball was the game. We knew all the players. There were scheduled doubleheaders. NBC was the only national baseball network. On a clear night, you were excited to find a game on the radio from a town far away. We played it wherever there was open space. We played it without umps or parents. Our gloves were part of our wardrobe and we treasured a good bat. We played and watched baseball because we loved it.

I know there are some young people today who still love baseball. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised by those twenty-somethings that love the game. Apparently, the contracts that look more like Powerball lottery winnings, labor strife and police reports have alienated as many kids as some pundits have led everyone to believe. Yet, I cannot help but feel they, and those that follow behind them, have missed out on a unique era. That's because they did.

For an hour this morning, I got to relive that era. I only wish I could share that feeling with everyone.


Geoffrey said...

Thanks for sharing those memories with us. I happened to find your posting while searching for material on NBC's Game of the Week. It was this NBC national broadcast of baseball (or regional coverage some weeks) that was the cornerstone of my Saturdays growing up. Our eras must have overlapped. I remember Game of the Week as far back as the late 1960's through the late 1980's. This Week in Baseball didn't appear on the scene for me (I grew up in San Antonio - still not a major baseball town) until the late 1970's, but it, too, became a regular part of my Saturday baseball routine.

Like you, I'd watch my baseball heroes, then pick up my glove and, with my friends, try to emulate their incredible feats on a make-shift field near my house.

Baseball has always been THE sport for me and every other sport has paled in comparison. I'm not sure why that is since I think football, hockey and basketball all require more consistently demonstrated athletic skill. Maybe it's the idea that with a dose of Game of the Week and TWIB, along with some athletic skill and a little imagination, a little kid like me could become Yaz or Aparicio or Carew or Kaline.

Thanks for your posting. It brought back a lot of good memories.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 70s and distinctly remember This Week In Baseball, and the Game of the Week. It was a much simpler time back then. TWIB provided access to the game's most exciting players. For many of us, this was our only exposure to the rest of Major League Baseball. I actually liked the colorful uniforms, the cookie-cutter stadiums, (at least they weren't named after corporations)and the fact that players had a tendency to stay longer with a particular team. I remember playing baseball or "strike out" and not being allowed to hit to right field. We played until it was too dark to see or were called in by our parents. Fun, fun times and this week in baseball was a big part of that.