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January 25, 2013 / glencoyote

If I am soulless, there is still baseball

As any fan knows, your favorite sport, your favorite team, is a time machine. Once embedded in your personal clock, fan time is a gear that rotates backward in synchronicity with those lesser memories that compose a life past. What reverie is sweeter than the contemplation of the youth-charged athletic competitions in which our avatars competed with  a grace and skill that although we couldn’t match, we could feel in body and soul.

David Schoenfield at ESPN.com has just posted an excellent piece entitled, “All-time top 25 players under 25.” For those of us of a certain age it is an incredible kaleidoscope of baseball history through the lens of that most precious, and evanescent, athletic commodity, the phenom.  Do I remember Sudden Sam McDowell? Could anyone who ever played Strat-o-matic baseball forget him? (Not to mention that he was also briefly a Yankee in the twilight of his career – Wow, the pleasure of writing that sports cliche!) And to see that he threw 273 innings at age 22! And Vida Blue throwing 312 innings of fastballs at age 21! Ah, the heady pre-Strasburgian days of my youth.

To read through a list that finds the common thread in Mantle, Dimaggio, Trout, Bench, Williams, Gooden and Rodriguez. . . well cue up that family album on your iPad – the slideshow that takes you from baby pictures to whatever current state of dilapidation you find yourself – and you will know the feelings of promise, joy and regret that are inevitable when one remembers the beginning of a journey.

Of Mickey Mantle, Schoenfield writes, “But then … then came one of the greatest seasons in major league history. Mantle hit .353 with 52 home runs and won the Triple Crown. He slugged .705 and had a 1.169 OPS. . . . he was so good in 1956 that even a 20-year-old Mantle — even a raw kid with big speed and huge power — couldn’t have been projected to have this kind of season.” So the future is uncertain, but even if you turn out to be more Mark Prior than Hank Aaron, hopefully the sweetness will outweigh the regret.

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