Note: This column appears in the 2/14 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/15 issue of the Peoria Times
It’s 11:30am on Sunday morning, and I find myself sitting in the visitor’s dugout at Scottsdale Stadium, the dugout steps guiding my eyes towards the crystal clear blue Arizona sky, surrounded by former big leaguers as I inhale the smells and listen to the sounds of the world’s greatest game.
The perfect view
I am minutes removed from meeting Buddy Schultz, former big league pitcher for the Cubs and Cardinals, current executive director of Arizona Baseball Charities, and architect of what everybody in the stands is gathering to enjoy -- the Arizona Baseball Charities Celebrity Baseball Game. Down to my right sits Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame pitcher and Honorary Chairman of this, the 16th installment of the celebrity game that serves to ring in the new season and benefit the association of Arizona Little Leagues.
Kids hang over the walls of the stands, outstretched and holding out baseballs and gloves and programs to be signed by the engaging Perry, NFL Hall-of-Famer Bobby Bell, and an array of former big leaguers including Eddie Leon and Tony Phillips. A rusty bunch of former professional athletes begins warming up, until a few players in the dugout notice that there aren’t enough baseballs, which causes one of them to joke that they’re on a “Bud Selig budget.” The entire scene only serves to turn good moods into great ones.
"You're sure you're not ADAM Eaton, right? Even I know that guy's overpaid...and I'm six."
I am now nestled in the stands as the game gets underway, merging into the thousands of fans who are here to excitedly watch the 2008 baseball season get unofficially underway. The game itself is oftentimes an exercise in self-deprecating humor, and includes fake brush-back pitches, underage pinch runners, and easy pop-ups lost in the piercing Arizona sun. It is also oftentimes baseball at its purest and unadulterated best, not corrupted by egos and featuring players who were once very good, and players who were once very great, playing for nothing else but charity and just because. In the third inning, the 70-year old Perry steps on the mound and strikes out the first two batters he faces, one of whom had earned the chance to play in this game by winning a raffle, and who would go home for the first time in his life bragging about being struck out.
Before the game, Buddy Schultz had announced that 100% of the revenue from this event -- including everything from tickets sold to pretzels consumed -- was going towards Arizona Baseball Charities, to be distributed to Little Leagues throughout the state with the hope that every child who wants to play baseball can. Now it’s midway through the fourth inning, and Buddy is announcing that the game has already earned $37,000, which is great news for every baseball-loving kid from Maricopa to Glendale to Anthem and everywhere in between.
In 1978, Gaylord Perry was quoted as saying, “The trouble with baseball is that it is not played year round.” He may be right, but if baseball never ended, then we’d never be able to experience the pure joy of watching it start up again. This is what I am thinking to myself as I sit here basking in the sun, watching some old guys turning triples into singles, just happy to be playing again.
What February 10th looks like in Arizona