Boys of summer

We know July 4 for its fireworks, a poignant coincidence, as on July 4, 1944, Oriole Park burned to the ground. The Baltimore Orioles were in a tight pennant race with the Montreal Royals atop the AAA International League. Several hours after the Birds lost a heartbreaker to the Syracuse Chiefs on that holiday evening, Orioles’ beloved wooden ballpark was reduced to ashes.

Baltimore quickly reconfigured its Municipal Stadium into a baseball park, sort of. The aging structure was better suited for football and foot races, but the Orioles needed a home, and this would have to do. The stadium, about a mile from our family’s rowhouse home, was an easy walk for us. For about $1, I think, my parents bought for me a wallet-size card that made me a member of the team’s Knothole Gang. A kid under 12 could go to games and watch from the bleachers just by presenting that card and paying a nickel. But my love of baseball started much earlier than that. We kids played the game every chance we got from a very early age. Baseball in my generation was deeply embedded in Baltimore’s social life.

The Orioles went on to win the 1944 Little World Series, beating the Louisville Colonels. Ten years later, they were in the major leagues, where they have remained since.

But this personal history, important as it feels to me, is small potatoes compared to the experience of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, who have just completed a thrilling World Series. Try to imagine how Cubs fans feel. Their team hadn’t won the series in 108 years. The Indians hadn’t been to baseball’s Promised Land since the late ’40s. Celebrate with Cubs fans. I do think the series shouldn’t extend into November, for heaven’s sake. Baseball is a summer sport.

Some Americans find baseball boring. It is too slow-moving, they complain. My response to that particular gripe is that they simply don’t understand what they’re watching. To me, few moments in sports can equal a play at the plate, a sacrifice squeeze, a well-turned double play, a towering homer that lands 20 rows up or a well-pitched inning.

Here’s to the Cubs. Congratulations. You have earned the respect of a nation.

Today’s word: emigrate or immigrate? Emigrate means to leave one country and move to another. Immigrate means to come into a country.

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