Screw Balls

My esteemed friend Russell Drumm used to say “All stories are fish stories,” and I knew exactly what he meant.

To me, life is a game of baseball, not of course literally, but more so than non-believers could ever imagine.

And so, it is with a profound sense of ceremony, I usher the 2019 season in, despite the fact that winter hasn’t had nearly enough time to make a proper exit.

The phenomena of rushing the season has been with us for a while, particularly here on the East End, where Super Summer Season promises celebs, cutting-edge cuisine and fashion, and transgender gender benders, all of which are already inundating the newspaper with updates.

It used to be we’d jump from Presidents Day right to Easter week with all the gusto that comes with a righteous holiday — and an excuse to shop. PR machines would pepper us with story ideas from merchants, tired of the winter malaise, who looked for an angle to kick-start the season. Lately, though, excepting a Kmart Easter Bunny basket, there really isn’t a hell of a lot to sell around here.

“Hey, Jesus died today. Wanna grab something to eat?” people say on Good Friday evening.

Oh, we’ll do Mothers Day — flowers, candy, and those corny cards — and give a couple weeks to promoting Fathers Day, which thanks to baseball, used to be a traditional feel-good Andy Griffith/Opie holiday, but is being bastardized by the Super Hero football gods.

I used to get my dad a card featuring an innocent 10-year old with a baseball mitt posing. “Thanks for teaching me . . .” it read.

Nowadays the same card opens up to wild-eyed kids, buxom babes, with a half-dozen bottles of booze. “Thanks’ for TEACHING ME HOW TO PAR-TAY DAD!!!” That’s the lasting influence of professional football on the typical American male.

We’ve all heard the George Carlin bit about the differences between baseball and football, how the former is a gentlemen’s game. Baseball players sacrifice and bunt, while football players throw bombs and unleash missiles.

These are euphemisms that help us learn life is a team sport. Ask anyone who’s ever been in a foxhole, and he will tell you the war is fought not for some noble cause crafted by crooked politicians, but because the men and women in uniform feel an obligation to the guy on either side. You fight because you are part of the team, and even the weakest link is a link nonetheless.

Which brings me, of course, to Florida.

Last week in Albany, I had my annual high-stakes Rotisserie Baseball Draft, our 31st, started by young executives out of Syracuse University those many years ago. They rose through the ranks to hold prominent jobs in state government, and dutifully retired. Now three spend the offseason in Florida, and a fourth is on his way.

For the first time, owners were allowed to attend via a videoconference. We commandeered a state office building but it wasn’t the same: trash talking a computer is no fun.

As it turned out, the guys moved to Florida because their wives want out of the gray, frigid Albany winters they endured for 30 years. I suspect it is that way out here as well: I know Karen, my wife, has just about had it with the miserable winter weather and my dog Coco, a rescue out of the Carolinas via Texas, shivers at the thought.

But I’m the one playing on the team. I’m in the starting lineup. I get my share of hits.

David Halberstam writes about a veteran reporter, I believe for the Daily News, who covered the Yankees for 40 years. He never missed a day, no matter what calamity befell him. I’m paraphrasing, but he told the writer, “I feel so lucky being able to cover baseball for a living that I don’t ever want to give anybody else a chance to replace me. What if they are better than me?”

The answer to that question is the colostomy bags, sun rooms, all you can eat Italian-style meat dinners at 4:30 and video conferencing. The answer is Florida followed by death.

OK, I’ll admit that occasionally I’ll walk out the door in February and get hit by that wave of frigid air. It will occur to me I could cash out my chips and buy a ticket to the Sunshine State. Would I survive? Of course. But would I be in the game?

I want a little more out of it than that. I wanna be a star.

Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column Award and holds first prize finishes in the Suburban Newspaper of America and the National Newspaper Association. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize Nominee.

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