It had been more than 25 years since I’d seen a baseball game in person — at the old Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, with friends and my son.
But I was alone earlier this month for a game between IU and Purdue at the Hoosiers’ Bart Kaufman Field, which opened last year to rave reviews.
A standing-room-only crowd of 3,661 was on hand, lending to a very enjoyable sports experience — the crowd, the crack of the bat, the music blaring from the PA system, the hot dogs.
It brought back wonderful memories.
I grew up worshipping baseball in the ’40s. But my interest began to wane when teams started paying bloated salaries to overrated players. My interest ended with the revelations of performance-enhancing drugs.
Baseball was truly special in my day, in part because it did not have to contend with the NFL and NBA. They were in their infancies.
But even if the professional football and basketball we have now had been around then, baseball would have been special for one reason: the truly great players — guys who really did deserve top dollar for their talent.
When I was a teenager and in my 20s, there were such greats as Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Steve Carlton, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, Ernie Banks, Early Wynn, Yogi Berra, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, Whitey Ford and Duke Snider.
Comparing those greats to today’s top stars can be tricky — different eras, different baseballs perhaps, and this: There were fewer teams back then, which means the talent was more concentrated. The hitters faced more quality pitching and vice versa. There was more mano-a-mano then — left-hander Spahn facing left-handed hitting Musial; right-hander Gibson facing right-handed hitting Frank Robinson, switch-hitting Mantle facing right-hander Wynn.