Friday, April 13, 2007

"It's just a j-o-b," said the only major leaguer I've ever met of his 51 years in professional baseball. He couldn't believe that I was so in awe of his 49 big-league at-bats, nor could he believe that I would remember that the Tigers beat the Padres in 5 games to win the 1984 World Series, even though he was the Padres' hitting coach at the time. "I don't like fans," he said, because a fan, after all, is just a fanatic. If he ever reads this, I figure he'll be dismayed that I took the liberty of researching his brief career in the majors: a batting average of .286 and one home run over three short stints with the White Sox from 1962-66.

Nonetheless, Deacon Jones did indulge me enough to discuss facing Satchel Paige, batting in front of Roberto Clemente in winter ball, receiving a compliment from Mickey Mantle and a life-changing workout with Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite his instructions to the contrary, I can't put into words how special it was to meet someone who had not only spent the last half century in the sport, but rubbed shoulders, however briefly, with the long-gone legends of the past.

"What is it about baseball that you like?" he asked, demanding "an intelligent answer". I stammered something about watching because I enjoyed it, but the question was provocative enough that I didn't have an answer until sometime this evening. I enjoy watching baseball because it's hard to use a thin cylinder to hit a ball moving at 150 kilometres per hour. It's very hard, in fact. Baseball is rare amongst human endeavours in that immortality awaits anyone who suceeds in two out of every five attempts. I watch baseball because it's hard to throw a curveball that drops from the shoulders to the knees in less than the span of an instant. More than anything, though, I watch baseball because it's fun.

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