America's Pastime

A good case of "baseball fever" has gotten me this season with the National's unexpected success. I was able to be at the game on October 15 when they clinched the championship from St Louis, and I have watched on television every inning of every other game in that series. Now in the World Series, too. And I haven't given up hope, either-- even though these last three games haven't ended well. I'll be watching tonight at 8:07 PM on FOX, channel 505.

I got into a conversation at Sunday's Fall Festival with a man. As we ate our hotdogs we talked, of course, about the Series.
"Will you be watching the game tonight," I asked him.
"No," he replied. "But I'll be listening." He went on to explain that, though he owns a television set and does occasionally watch a game, he actually prefers listening to them on the radio.
I was intrigued, and so I asked him why that was.
"When listening, I feel like I am right there in the middle of what's happening. The crowd surrounds me--I can hear their roar and sense their excitement. Plus," he went on, "the announcers are better and share more knowledgeably. I get to see it all in my brain."

Then I remembered that Ronald Reagan's first job out of college in 1932 was as a radio sportscaster. His audition involved creating in his head a fictional football game, and telling it to the program manager. With dramatic flair, names of players, and a description of each play, he was able to make the contest come to life. He was hired on the spot.

One time later, while broadcasting a real baseball game between the Cubs and the Cardinals, he was forced to use every skill of the actor he was to become. In those days the game would be "telegraphed" from the stadium to far flung stations, and then the local announcers would read the account and make it sound like they were actually there. In the ninth inning of a scoreless game, Dizzy Dean threw a pitch. Suddenly, the wire went dead! Reagan had already announced the pitch, but to call it?

He told his audience that it was a foul ball. But then, with the wire still down, he had to have yet another foul. He even described a red-headed boy holding up the ball he had caught in the stands. In all, it was 7 minutes of foul after foul before the connection to reality was restored! The truth was that the batter had popped out on that first pitch--but no one ever knew the difference.

Radio, like that, is theater for the mind. It forces you to use your imagination. For the same reason that reading the book is usually better than going to the movie-- listening and picturing it yourself might be better than seeing only what the cameraman chooses to show you.

Ah, the imagination. Children are better at this than older folks are. Well, at least they have been in past generations. We may be over-stimulating them so much now with technology and screens that they could lose that ability to "see" with their minds. I hope not.

I know that I will take a skilled raconteur with an interesting, amusing story any day over a slick Hollywood movie filled with explosions and expletives.

Decades later, President Ronald Reagan would use that gift he had honed back in radio days. He's the one who started the tradition of telling stories of brave Americans and introducing them up in the gallery during the State of The Union address. To great effect, too. Later Presidents took a page and do it, still.

My friend the other afternoon at the Festival suggested that I could ease into how he enjoys a baseball game-- by watching with the TV volume muted, listening to the radio.

I may just give it a try.
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