I've thought about you, on and off over the past few years. I’ve wondered how you were. I’d look up your website and reread your bio because it would make me smile.
Friends always chuckle about your famous quotes and they get thrown around the internet every so often. You were always so gracious when people poked fun at you for the crazy things you said. I never thought they were crazy and they made perfect sense to me.
I got you, Yogi.
I always knew what you meant.
I was a huge baseball fan as a kid and because I grew up in N.Y, that made you a part of my childhood memories. I loved the Mets AND the Yankees. They were my teams and part of my city. I didn't understand rooting against either. Maybe it was because I did not grow up during the days of the cross town rivalries and subway series of the Yankees vs. the Dodgers or the Giants. I can’t really speak to that, but, dear Yogi, that does not really matter. I’ve moved away from NY, and been gone a long time. I’ve drifted away from baseball too, although deep down I still love the game. Baseball is part of me. It’s part of this country in many ways and I know that as a WWII veteran, as a man who faced the guns and blood on the beaches at Normandy, you knew that too.
You knew what was important.
Then you came home and found yourself playing baseball. I can’t imagine how much easier it must have been to stand at the plate against a Bob Feller fast ball, compared to Normandy. Anything you did after that must have been a joy by comparison.
And so it was for you, because it showed. We could see it.
Everything you did in baseball was done with gratitude.
You were a real screwball but you loved the game, and you played it well. But there was more to it. It was as though, every time you stepped up the plate, or caught the ball, you were amazed that you were able to make your living doing something you loved. It showed. Your joy and wonder, yes, wonder is the right word, was ever present. Every time you stepped on the field, to hit, to catch, to coach or manage, your sense of wonder was palpable. Everyone could see it and feel it. That is what made you special.
You loved the fans, and they loved you back. You acted the way most of us would like to think we would, if we suddenly found ourselves in your place, with your special gifts. You were not the slick, handsome celebrity-type, like Joe DiMaggio. He was a great Yankee, and everyone admired him, but you Yogi, were beloved. Your down to earth manner, humility and sense of humor endeared you to everyone including your rivals.
We saw ourselves in you, Yogi.
You never disappointed us.
Baseball is full of metaphors for life and they are so much a part of our language that many folks probably do not even realize just how pervasive “baseball speak” is entrenched in our thought processes. Every time we “swing for the fences”, or ask for a “ball park figure”, because we want to make sure we have “all our bases covered”, or we pray never to get “thrown a curve” because” there’s two strikes against us”, that’s baseball talk.
We know we have succeeded in life when we are “ready for the major leagues” or someone calls us a “heavy hitter”. When we want to “touch base” with someone because we haven’t heard from them in a while… we are speaking your language.
You taught us many things. You were notorious for being a "bad ball" hitter. You always said that ,"If you could see it, you could hit it".
And you’re right about that. I learned a great deal by listening to you, Yogi.
It’s true, that in baseball, as well as life, you don't always get the perfect pitch to hit.
And never, never ever.... watch the 3rd strike go by. Always always always go down swinging.
I learned that from you Yogi.
To be honest, in a crazy way, I never thought you would or could die. That’s strange I suppose, but it’s true. I am not sure where that thought came from, probably from out of left field. Perhaps I do not want the wonder of it all to disappear. It’s been hard for me to watch baseball lately. The game has changed. Not entirely, but I suppose change is always inevitable and baseball fans are known for their reluctance to change.
I’m proof of that.
I’m still not happy about the designated hitter. Maybe I need to let that go. I was sad when they built a new Yankee Stadium, but it’s happened before. Maybe I’m the one that needs to change.
I have needed a reason to watch baseball again.
I’ve been looking for one. Every once in a while I flip on a game. I don’t even know who the players are anymore. I used to collect all the baseball cards and I used to know everyone’s batting average, but now, I don’t even know their names. It doesn’t matter really. The moment the pitcher begins their windup, I still hold my breath. It’s one of the greatest dramatic moments in sports, and it happens over and over, every game.
After the shock and horror of 9/11 we looked to baseball as a way to heal. We knew we were going to survive as a nation because we started to play ball, once again. Maybe it seems silly; after all, it’s only a game. It is more than that, though, isn’t it? When President Bush threw out the first pitch at that World Series game in Yankee stadium, I’d like to think that for that one moment in time, that we, as a nation, set aside politics and were united in our emotions.
Why does baseball have such a dramatic impact on us?
I can’t speak for everyone, but it always brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear the National Anthem before a game. No one will ever convince me that the words “play ball” are not officially the last two words of that song. It doesn’t matter who plays or sings it, I still cry, because you see Yogi, it’s all jumbled together for me, baseball and childhood and America and you and I don’t want to lose any of that.
“It ain’t over til it’s over.” It can’t be over. It never really is.
You knocked this life out of the park Yogi, I hope your game goes well into extra innings.
Maybe baseball still has something to teach me and I should start watching again.
After all, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game; perhaps it’s time I got out of the on deck circle and stepped up to the plate.