You know what they say about banging your head against a wall: it feels so good when you stop? Well, that’s the currently biennial experience I had last weekend, as the New Orleans Baby Cakes made their every-other-season visit to Albuquerque.
The Pacific Coast League AAA baseball team representing the Land of Dreams came to the Land of Enchantment bearing a new, and to me, totally ignominious name. They used to be the Zephyrs, but new ownership hired a new marketing firm that specializes in “catchy” (more often kitschy) baseball nicknames. The Hartford Yard Goats are one amusing if oddly self-deprecating example. Better than the Insurance Salesmen, I’m sure.
Speaking of local identities, iconic babies do play a traditional role in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations, and the “King Cake” is another local specialty but, the Baby Cakes?
But for the four days they were in town, and the three I got to spend as a guest in the booth of the New Orleans broadcast team of play-by-play man Tim Grubbs and analyst Ron Swoboda, enunciating “Baby Cakes” was the biggest pebble in my shoe.
That aside, there was only baseball to worry about. No Trump.
Having worked sports as well as news, I can tell you one of organized athletics’ best qualities is that everything of real importance takes place on the playing field. Sure, there are business aspects, and off-the-field interpersonal relations that can make a difference, but that difference is measured in wins and losses, and in baseball, by a staggering array of personal statistics.
Baseball fans not only revel in agreed-upon facts, they know that rulings by umpires can be right or wrong (and in these days of instant replay, sometimes even overturned) but they are never lies.
Of course, there are tricks: stolen signals, hidden balls, and back in the day, spit-moistened pitches. And there can be unapproved forms of internal regulation: steal a base with your team already well ahead and you or a teammate can expect an inside pitch with a warning message against such breaches of tradition, such affronts to the dignity and integrity of the game.
In the so-called “real world” of politics and economics who would think of invoking dignity or integrity except to lament their absence.
“The playpen,” Howard Cosell used to call “the world of sports,” as if it were a supreme irony that an adult of such overwhelming intelligence should consign himself to reporting on such an infantile place. The real irony is that Cosell was one of the best-paid journalists covering sports, even though his soi-disant “insights” into virtually every one of the sports he covered were usually anodyne or wrong. Cosell’s real journalistic strength was in relating “fun and games” to the realities of racism inside and “outside the lines” of sports.
I’m sure, if he were alive today, Cosell would call out the racism of public budgeting that has stripped, particularly in inner cities with large populations of “people of color,” schools and Parks and Recreation Departments of athletic and other after-school activities and facilities for them.
This kind of racism and simple colonial economics have combined to shrink the number of African-Americans in Major League Baseball and to speed their replacement by Puerto Rican-Americans, Dominicans and growing numbers of Venezuelans and Colombians, Panamanians, Mexicans and even Curacaovians.
This ethnic change is also mirrored in the stands, where the number of Black baseball fans continues to dwindle, alas.
But last weekend, even those realities seemed to fade as bright New Mexico sunset retreated and the stadium lights took hold, and two teams richer in Latino than African-American talent took the field. For three hours or so, my eyes and brain could focus on the game in front of me and the music in the booth.
‘Cause that’s what well-broadcast sports is, a musical event. This is especially true when the broadcast booth is (over-) populated by 3 voices. Tim, Swo and I have done this enough, singly and together, that we’ve developed a natural rhythm, a collective cadence that strings descriptions of the action, analysis how it was accomplished, and contextual references to games and players past and present, like notes inked onto a musical score.
If you’re inclined to keep score, the ‘Cakes swept the ‘Topes. It was the second time in a row the visitors had gone undefeated in Albuquerque. I guess the guest announcer was too good a host.
It takes a lot to erase the iniquities of our President from my mind, but Ron and Tim, the players and the fans swept mine clean. Thanks for that to all involved at Isotopes Park, for 10 hours of harmony with y’all and yon universe.