Can’t wait to bid adieu to baseball!

Oct 14, 2003 6:24 AM

Each fall, as penance for my sins during the year, I undergo a rite of self flagellation.

I watch major league baseball.

If Abner Doubleday were alive today, I would hunt him down and torture him by making him watch with me what he supposedly began: the most overrated, dull, boring, inane game in the land.

Of course Doubleday can’t be blamed for what television does to this zombie sport, as displayed for the masses in the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox extravaganza last Saturday.

Doubleday never dreamed of the joys of a pitch-by-pitch replay. What exciting stuff! Watch again now: strike, ball, ball, strike ball, strike.

He could not have imagined the joy of watching a camera zoom-in on an extreme close-up of the pitcher’s eyes, of his cheeks swollen by a chaw of tobacco, of guys sitting in the dugout scratching themselves and spitting, of the hooded silent scariness of the ominous stare of Joe Torre’s eyes under the pulled-down visor of his cap.

He certainly could not have dreamed of a scene like last Saturday, when Pedro Martinez flipped 72-year-old roly poly Don Zimmer on his back and watched him roll over like a tenpin after Zimmer had charged at him in fury. Then the camera caught Andy Pettitte kneeling over Zimmer asking, "What happened?" You only had to join the kids in reading lips to know what happened.

I have a successful son who I knew was on the right road in life when he was eight and quit Little League. He was an outfielder, and came home one day and said, "I’m through. I have better things to do than stand around out there while eight other guys play catch." I was overjoyed, because he was at an impressionable age and was being subjected to the ranting and raving of the local florist, who managed the team and raged at the kids, using profanity none of them would use today as adults. The manager was the first idiotic jerk my son encountered in life, and the experience turned my boy to sports like cross-country skiing, where he could be alone and free of the human experience.

I took my grandkids to a game in Baltimore some years back, to Camden Yards, touted as the last word in baseball stadiums. Unfortunately I left my race-calling binoculars at home, and the kids soon lost interest In the microscopic figures on the diamond, turning instead to the $4 Cokes (one size only) and the $3.50 hotdogs.

Watching the Red Sox and Yankees, I suddenly realized I was developing a serious nervous tick each time Nomar Garciaparra came to bat. The little game of cat’s cradle he plays with his wrists while at the plate was entertaining at first, then became disconcerting, then maddening. The guy needs a shrink, or perhaps he simply gets some erotic delight out of tapping Velcro. It got so bad by the seventh inning that I couldn’t watch.

Then the director began the usual crowd shots, with funny hats and hand-printed banners and the guys wearing baseball gloves in the stands in right and left field. It was mild, of course, compared to pro football, with its wildly painted faces, bare chests, and cheeseheads, and to college football, with the obligatory shots of scantily clad cheerleaders being lofted high overhead and howling hordes of shrieking kids leering and pointing their figures in number one, even though none of them is from Oklahoma. Mild or not, it was a pain in the butt.

Watching all this, I decided that perhaps I was the one who needed a shrink, and I began visualizing the scene in his office, when he asked where this all started and I told him it probably was a fourth grade assignment in public speaking, when I had to memorize and recite Casey at the Bat. I never recovered.

To tell you how bad things got watching the Red Sox and Yankees, I finally switched channels and watched Donald Rumsfeld and Dick ChEney.

That’s really paying painful penance for your sins.