Without forgiveness as a standard part of the daily emoji discourse that has become so…
As baseball gets underway, one voice is missing
In my formative years and later — once I’d discovered my vocation in the non-Catholic sense — I used to read sportswriters the way pianists would listen to Mozart or Chopin or Beethoven, or filmmakers would watch Scorsese or Kubrick or Capra. You read — or listen, or watch — not to be entertained, but to be educated.
I have dozens of books placed neatly on shelves that I haven’t picked up in ages and dozens more stowed away in the attic for some distant future where I have more time to wander through them and continue my studies — compilations of columns by the all-timers: Red Smith and Frank DeFord and Dan Jenkins and Jim Murray and Rick Reilly, when he still had his good fastball.
But when it comes to sportswriting — for me, anyway — there are really only two categories: baseball and everything else. There’s a romanticism about good baseball writing that transports the reader back to simpler days. When I was in my early 20s and stealing liberally from the giants I mentioned above, I found an old dog-eared copy of “The Boys of Summer,” Roger Kahn’s opus on the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s, in a used bookstore while working in Vero Beach, Florida — Dodgertown! It still is my favorite baseball book, and for the longest time Kahn was my favorite baseball writer. Now he slides in at No. 2.
Bob Lockwood, who graced the pages of this newspaper for years, didn’t always write about baseball, but it was his pieces on baseball that made me fall in love with his writing. Once a year, almost always around Opening Day, the other editors and I would get an email from Bob that would say simply: “Hey gang, here’s the annual baseball column. Hope you like it.” One of his last baseball columns — a couple of years before he passed — started like this:
“There were three critical points in my baseball career. The first was when I was around 8. I wanted to be a catcher because I figured a catcher got to be a part of every play. … After only two pitches, I found out that I instinctively blinked whenever the batter swung, shutting my eyes to the ball at the last second. Catching would not be in the cards.”
The second point, he wrote, was when he realized that he couldn’t hit a curveball.
“Third point was at age 30, playing for the company softball team. I was in center, a position I could always field just fine. We were playing a group of younger guys not as old as our gloves. A guy hit a shot over my head and I turned to chase it down. But I couldn’t judge it. I had lost the ability to go back on a fly ball. …
“James Earl Jones explained it in the classic movie ‘Field of Dreams’: ‘The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. … It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.”
Bob once wrote — probably more than once, if I had to bet a hotdog on it — that baseball is “essentially a Catholic sport.” It was a sport that stoked his faith, as he was moved by the grace of its players, by the vividness of the memories it created and by the camaraderie it generated among his fellow baseball-loving Catholics.
As I was checking scores on the recent alternate-reality Opening Day in July, I wondered what Bob would have written about this year’s COVID-shortened season. What lessons would he have imparted? What jokes would he have cracked about his Mets? Perhaps how they’ve been social distancing themselves from home plate for years. He might have dug up that James Earl Jones quote again and written that if baseball truly does mark time, then it’s fitting that the 2020 season is shaping up to be the strangest in generations.
At some point, as my life gets on in innings, I’ll have time to blow the dust off of those old books and reread the greats I remember from my youth. But none of them will stir my soul — and spark my faith — the way Bob Lockwood could.
Scott Warden is managing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.