There’s been something missing in my life, and I’ve been trying not to think about it.
But sticking my head in the sand and avoiding bad news about delayed and canceled seasons is not easy, especially working as a sports writer for a daily newspaper.
As my family can attest, if it happened in the world of sports, I probably know about it.
So when the Major League Baseball owners approved a plan Monday morning to start an abbreviated season around Independence Day, I was immediately hit with a case of Baseball Fever, and I don’t see it going away any time soon.
I think we can all agree we need the distraction during these times of COVID-19.
I mean, in less than two months baseball might be back. Well, at least some form of the national pastime at least. The proposal is to play games without fans in attendance, but at least we can watch on TV, right? That is, if the players’ union agrees to the owners’ proposal.
The biggest obstacle figures to be just that — figures — as in dollars. Teams are proposing that players receive the percentage of their 2020 salaries based on a 50-50 split of revenues MLB receives during the regular season and postseason. That proposal would take into account fans being able to return to ballparks at some point, perhaps with a small percentage of seats sold at first, then gradually increasing.
Things will likely get a bit messy when health officials and state officials get involved, but I’m still holding out hope it will all work out.
For as long as I can remember, baseball has been a part of my life. From playing imaginary games in my backyard as a youngster. Tossing a golf-sized wiffle ball up and mimicking the batting stance of my favorite Dodgers, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Reggie Smith … or tossing a tennis ball against the side of my house as Burt Hooten or former Angels pitching great Frank Tanana (my right-handed version). My love for the sport far surpassed my talent level with each passing year.
It was passed on from my father, John Stapp, who played professionally for several years in the Milwaukee Braves farm system and later starred as a pitcher for the Alaska Goldpanners in the early ’60s.
It was handed off to my five children, three of which —Cody, Ryan and Ronnie — played in high school. Heck, even my youngest daughter Megan got into the act. She preferred playing baseball over softball as a youngster until other interests began to take hold. My oldest, Melanie, tried softball, but she found her calling in cheerleading.
But I digress.
The sport has given me so much happiness, and in unexpected ways.
There was the time when I was covering a Dodgers game for the Newnall Signal newspaper when I found myself in the pressbox at Dodger Stadium, seated between “Squiggy” from the old sitcom “Laverne and Shirley,” David Lander, and actor Robert Wuhl, best known for his roles in “Batman,” “Bull Durham” and “Arliss.” May not sound like much to most, but as a young reporter, I was a bit star-struck.
Then there was the time my wife and I took Ryan to a baseball tryout in Thousand Oaks. Hundreds of parents and aspiring teenage ballplayers, scattered throughout a baseball complex, in what turned out to be a marathon of a day as scouts ran a seemingly endless stream of kids through drill after drill.
But while waiting, my wife Debbie looked to pass the time. She struck up a conversation with another mom named Janet. Both had five kids and appeared to have a lot in common. The two hit it off and when Janet’s husband Wayne called shortly thereafter, my wife’s new friend convinced him to pick up a few pizzas and she asked us if we wanted some. “Sure, that’s great.”
Things turned surreal a few minutes later when Wayne — Wayne Gretzky — showed up with a couple of boxes of “pies.” The funniest part for me, my wife continued to talk to Janet — actress Janet Jones — and shook Wayne’s hand, as the two women continued to talk about motherhood and their sons. It wasn’t until our trip home that she found out who they were.
There was the time Fernando Valenzuela was at Gerry Collis Field to watch his son, who was playing for Glendale College against BC at the time. I spotted him, but was too embarrassed to ask him for an autograph.
I had my older sons, Cody and Ryan with me. I convinced (bribed) them to do my dirty work, even though neither knew who he was at the time. I found an old baseball in my car and they cautiously approached him. And just as I had instructed them they said, “Excuse me Mr. Venezuela (as in the country), can I please get your autograph. His response? “Mr. Venezuela (yes, the country), who is that?” The two boys, visibly shaken and upset, returned mortified. “Dad, that’s not him.” Once I figured out their mistake, I sent them back and they returned with a ball, signed “Venezuela.” Oh well.
Years later, we all had a brush with greatness when Ryan’s travel baseball team, the Bakersfield Curve, traveled to play in the Triple Crown World Series in Steamboat Springs, Colo. During a game against the Katy Cowboys, Roger Clemens was among the parents in attendance to watch his son play.
It became a big deal when Ryan made a phantom tag at second base and Clemens’ son was called out. The Katy team objected, and somewhere in all the chaos, Clemens was asked to leave the field for apparently spitting a sunflower seed at the umpire that made the incorrect call.
I was in charge of the team’s website at the time, and I remember being called and interviewed by several news agencies as I headed back to Bakersfield the following day. By the time I got to Las Vegas, the story had hit ESPN and my quote about the event was scrolling on the “Bottom Line” on every TV in sight.
Baseball has also helped bring my family together. It’s been almost eight years now since my mother-in-law Jan Sweeney passed away. I remember my youngest, Ronnie was devastated at the loss of his grandmother. But there was baseball to help ease the blow. His entire travel team showed up to the funeral, all wearing their Kern Krushers uniforms in unified support of our family, and perhaps their biggest fan.
The unexpected brush with celebrity and the acts of genuine kindness have all merged together with a lifetime of baseball memories, on and off the field. It’s all a part of a sport that I have missed. Thankfully, the wait may be over soon.