Baseball is part of the nation’s fabric. Most kids have a memory of the game either from playing Little League, attending a major league contest or meeting a favorite player. In Cooperstown that feeling is magnified since we are the official home of baseball. We get to see firsthand what has made the sport the national pastime.
One thing that makes baseball special is the nostalgic aspect to it. It is difficult today to appreciate how close a fan felt to the game in the old days. With the multi-million-dollar contracts and billion-dollar franchises of present-day baseball it’s harder than ever to connect with the players.
Major leaguers once lived in middle-class neighborhoods and worked in the off-season. Today you would be lucky to spot them leaving their gated communities or pay for their autographs at card shows.
One reason spring training has become so popular is that it’s the last remaining bastion where you might feel “close” to the players.
Along with the multimillion- dollar contracts come higher ticket prices. Where a family of four could easily attend a game for $20 40 years ago, it would be closer to $200 today and that’s before being overcharged for hot dogs, soda, and beer. Baseball is still baseball, but the innocence has disappeared.
That’s one reason nostalgia is such an important part of the game. There is nothing like looking back to simpler times. One of the great things about baseball is that the heart of the game hasn’t changed. Because the equipment and dimensions of the field are still basically the same as they were 100 years ago, it’s easy to relate to the past.
It’s a way for fans to hold on to their love of the game when attending major league contests has become less affordable.
Into this breach is a new book seen mainly from the fan’s perspective called “Baseball Fantography.” It is edited by Andy Strasberg and contains photos from ordinary fans plus short stories on many of the unique aspects of the game.
As you will discover, Andy is one of the truest fans you will ever come across. He wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated almost 25 years ago about his relationship with Roger Maris that still ranks as one of the best magazine articles that I have ever read.
In the interest of full disclosure I have to mention that I had the pleasure of penning one of the short stories in the book. I was one of a number of people with a local connection that was asked to contribute including Jeff Katz, Tim Wiles, Jeff Arnett, and Dale Petrosky (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!).
But we’re not the ones who made this book such a pleasure to absorb (I can’t say “read” because there’s much more to it than that).
It’s really the fans and the photos they’ve shared. Andy intertwines all the stories with photos of the baseball experience and adds fascinating bits of trivia that most baseball fans are unaware of.
If you ever wondered why left-handed pitchers are called south-paws, which Oakland A’s ball girl became famous baking cookies, or why 5,000 fans left at the start of a game in Boston in 1943, the answers are all here.
In addition, anyone with a fascination for ballparks (both ancient and retro) will love this book.
The photos and descriptions of major league venues remind you of what a rich and unique history baseball has endured.
I hesitated to review this book because I clearly have a bias. But I didn’t have to be a part of it to be moved by what it represents. Baseball has lost a lot of its charm because money and commercialism have overwhelmed it.
Andy’s book reminds us that the essence of the game is still something to celebrate. That alone makes the book worthwhile.