Take Me Out of the Ballgame

Last Saturday, I watched my first Major League Baseball game from beginning to end for the first time since 1958. Yes, it was the eighteen-inning record-breaker between the Mariners and the Astros in which the Mariners finally gave it up when the Astros scored in that eighteenth inning many hours later. It could just as well have been days. By inning eleven I was done. By inning eighteen? I was way beyond done!!

So why this very long pause between games, and does it sound as though I’m not a huge baseball fan? That is correct, I’m not a fan, and what follows is a word of explanation.

I attended grades K-8 at Greenway Elementary School in Bisbee, Arizona, graduating from there in 1958. Three of the teaching staff at Greenway—classroom teachers Mr. Norton and Mr. Goodson, as well as the PE teacher, Mr. Rosette—were all diehard baseball fans who most especially adored the World Series. As a result, every October, all the students from fourth grade up were herded into the school auditorium where a console television set,a large one for that era, was placed at center stage. Then after being handed score sheets, we were required to watch.

I’m someone who should have worn glasses in first grade and ended up getting them in second. With my current correction at the time and from only the fourth or fifth row, I couldn’t for the life of me see what was happening on the field. After all this was back in the old days of black and white TV, and the screen on the one they brought each year was actually a seasick shade of green.

During those World Series ordeals, my favorite words quickly became, “No runs, no hits, no errors, and no one left on base.” That was the signal telling us that at least that inning was over, and we were one step closer to being released from baseball prison. And at the end of each inning, I had to ask the people next to me what had happened so I could fill in my score sheet because those—with our names written on each one—were collected at the end of every never-ending game. (I have no idea of the score sheets were graded. None of the teachers ever returned them.)

What I remember most from that experience is that I once was hauled on the carpet for having smuggled a book into the auditorium—probably a Nancy Drew or a Hardy Boys. Keeping score was mandatory while reading was not allowed.

Back then, nothing made me happier than a clean sweep which meant the damned World Series ended after only four miserable days.

Incidentally, I may have mentioned previously that it’s not a good idea to make mystery writers mad, and I do hold grudges. Early in my writing career, I wrote a book that required the presence of a high school coach. Naming characters is always a challenging issue for me, and so I went shopping in my head for an appropriate name. If I wrote Sci-Fi, I might be able to give my characters names like Dalvar, for instance, but for murder mysteries, I need something a little less Star Trekkie and a little more normal.

The way my mind works, thinking about coaches immediately took me back to the Phys-Ed teacher, Leo Rosette. Rightly or wrongly, I always suspected he was the mover and shaker behind those enforced World Series viewing sessions. So I gave my fictional guy the first name of Leo and added in a perfectly ordinary last name.

The story was set on Mercer Island. Let’s just say the fictional coach wasn’t exactly a stand up guy. Several months after the book was published, my editor called to inform me that unfortunately a man living on Mercer Island, an attorney, who bore the same name as my fictional character was NOT a happy camper. As a result, in subsequent printings of that book, that character goes by a different name, one with the same number of letters. I have no idea what his name is now. All I know is, it’s not the name I gave him originally.

I’m sure a huge number of people here in Seattle are devastated the Mariners won’t be in this year’s World Series. Had they been, I would most likely have ended up watching anyway, but for right now, I’m feeling as though I dodged a baseball bullet.

As for that sixty-four year pause between baseball games? Who knew that a mere PE teacher could have that kind of lasting impact on a student’s life?