I was driving through my neighborhood this weekend. It was a balmy 70 degrees and I saw dads and sons playing catch and kids playing wiffle ball.
Could it be that time of year? Ahhhhh, the Boys of Summer!
I love baseball. A late summer night, listening to Jack Buck call a Cardinals game or Ernie Harwell call a Tigers game with the radio under your pillow. Ahhhhh, the Boys of Summer!
Watching Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek call a game at Fenway Park on the Saturday Game of the Week. Ahhhhh, the Boys of Summer!
Sitting in the bleachers, eating a hot dog on a warm summer afternoon. Ahhhhh, the Boys of Summer!
Playing wiffle ball and having your best friend pitch to you like Luis Tiant, windmilling the bat like you're Willie Stargell. Not enough kids to field a team? No problem, right field is out. Ahhhhh, the Boys of Summer!
Surrounded by talk of lockouts, scandals and sexting, it was refreshing to see people enjoying baseball for what it was and is: a game.
In these days of free agents, contracts and labor disputes, are there still athletes who love the game?
I think so. And, as I thought about it, I put together a "Dream Team" of baseball players who played or play the game because they love the game.
I have to have both a righty and a lefty. My righty is Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Anyone who talks to a baseball has to love the game.
My lefty is Bill "Spaceman" Lee. He might look like Charles Manson, but he loved the game. My reliever is Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky. To watch him psych himself up before each pitch was a sight.
Catcher: Rick Dempsey
This guy always had fun. Who can forget those clips of Dempsey on "This Week in Baseball" running the bases on the tarp during a rain delay with his hat on backwards?
First Base: Ernie Banks
"Lets Play Two." Whether you're a Cubs fan or not, his smile was contagious and you could not help but love Ernie Banks. Remember when they used to actually schedule doubleheaders? You could go watch two games for the price of one!
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
You can't help but admire this guy. He doesn't look like a baseball player, but his uniform is always dirty and he's always hustling.
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith
When a guy does a flip as he takes his place on the field, he has to be loving what he's doing.
Third Base: Brooks Robinson
How many times did you watch Brooks Robinson dive behind the third base bag, get up and fire a strike across the diamond? When I think of baseball, I think of Brooks Robinson.
Outfield: Pete Rose
Whether or not you believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame, you have to have "Charlie Hustle" on your team.
Picture Pete Rose chugging from first to third, pushing off his helmet and showing off that Prince Valiant haircut or running over Ray Fosse in an All-Star Game that doesn't mean anything...well, no matter what your opinion of Pete Rose, he loved to play the game of baseball.
Outfield: Willie Mays
The "Say Hey Kid." Yes, they had cartoons of him, and it seemed like he was always smiling and having fun. I can picture Willie Mays running full speed with his back to the infield, making a basket catch and whirling to throw back to the infield.
Outfield: Manny Sanguillen
I know, he was a catcher. But he did volunteer to play right field after my boyhood hero Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on a mission of mercy. Sanguillen had a contagious grin.
Swinging that huge bat, flashing that smile, he loved to play the game of baseball.
Designated Hitter: John Kruk
Remember when he faked a heart attack while dodging a Randy Johnson fastball? Watching Kruk play, and now watching him broadcast, is entertaining, to say the least.
Manager: Tommy Lasorda
Anybody who attacks the Phillies' mascot has to manage this team. Of course, his bench coach would be Yogi Berra. After all, as Yogi said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."
Wow, what a team this would be to watch, to follow, to enjoy the game of baseball for what it is: a game. For all of us who fell in love with baseball as children and still love the game.
Ahhhhh, the Boys of Summer!