Weeds: Krzmarzick calls in a pinch hitter

So, I got “the call.” One of my favorite columnists, Randy Krzmarzick, called and asked if I’d write a column for him while he gets busy in the fields this spring, assuming spring would ever come. Randy gets these column breaks every spring and fall like Joe Mauer gets a “scheduled day off.” Minus the $23.5 million a year contract.

Now I have to admit, I don’t get nervous much, but a little kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttered in my upper gastrointestinal tract as I replied, “YES!” After hanging up, it dawned on me that Randy’s readers may NOT want a pinch hitter. Being a fan of his, I forgot to think about having to sit in for his other fans who paid good money and look forward to his every other Wednesday Weeds. I’m picturing them with their morning’s first cup of joe, opening The Journal to get their bi-weekly dose of Weeds. It’s a bit intimidating to view myself as Moonlight Graham pinch hitting for Harmon Killebrew.

For those who don’t know me, I am a baseball lover, fan, and player who happens to do chiropractic for a living. One of my earliest recollections came from my neighbor Elsie Beech saying, “That kid has been playing baseball ever since he was knee high to a grasshopper.”

My grandfather, Harry Dieltz, was a local baseball legend in western Wisconsin. I remember him sticking his finger hard into my adolescent sternum and sternly saying, “Don’t you EVER let a woman come between you and baseball.” So, I married a baseball gal (actor, director, and teacher) from a baseball (tight knit, loving, wholesome, farm) family. Sandy and I started our own team and it’s been “PLAY BALL!” ever since.

Spring was a long time coming this year. Nonetheless, thinking of spring brings to mind the usual budding of the trees, the singing and return of the migrating birds (especially the baseball birds: the Cardinals, Blue Jays and Orioles), the cool of the morning, and the warmth of the mid-day air. But this time of year also includes baseball for me. Hey, after all, they call it Spring Training!

Reflecting on my youth in the late Sixties and Seventies, baseball ties in with the first signs of spring. The smell of the leather glove, the feel of the bat in your hands, the sound of the ball cracking the mitt, the taste of salty peanuts and sunflower seeds, the sight and smell of freshly cut green grass, the smell of hot dogs, brats, and burgers on the grill all indicated that baseball, I mean spring, was here.

During school days, just as the first robin arrived, came the announcement from some kid that baseball cards were here! There was only one card company back then, appropriately named Topps. There was the anticipation for the day of school to be over, and then racing to the grocery store or Ben Franklin as soon as humanly possible to see what this year’s cards looked like.

“Will I get any Twins?” We would scrape up our allowance, lawn mowing, and paper route money to buy ten-cent packs of cards: ten pieces of cardboard heaven and one stick of the best tasting five-minute bubble gum ever known to man. Those first couple days would mean a hoard of banana bikes crowding the entry ways and sidewalks of those businesses. Many kids would stand around opening their packs and announcing, “I GOT A TWIN!” Then someone else, “I GOT CAREW!” Of course, we all had to look and see what those cards looked like and then turn jealous. The feeling of lottery success came when you bagged your favorite players.

Later, after opening many packs, you would hear kids say “Got ’em, got’ em, need ’em, got ’em”. “Got ’em” meant you had doubles or triples, stock for trading with your friends. It was a sin of card collecting to clothes-pin your baseball cards to the bike spokes (that’s what a deck of playing cards was for) or to scratch out or draw on cards, especially to indicate that a player was traded to another team. Old shoe boxes housed your cards, and many tightly rubber banded them together in teams. I never met a card I didn’t like.

Early spring in my youth meant the return of bikes out and about. In those days it was safe to bike anywhere. Our bikes were our transportation and you were sure to find a good majority of those bikes with baseball gloves hanging over the handlebars. We would ride about town looking to join any of the neighborhood games. There were games to be found all over town. Games of Wiffle ball, 500, tenny ball, hot box, pitcher-catcher, rubber coated and “real” baseball games. Our stadiums were back yards, empty lots, city parks, school yards, and even ball parks.

Teams were picked by the “captains” (the oldest players) and everyone played who wanted to. Umpires were usually the captains. “Knobs” indicated who would have “first ups.” Knobs meant a bat was thrown in the air from one captain to the other. Once caught by the handle, alternating captain’s hands gripped their way to the top. The last one holding the knob had to spin it overhead and around in succession 3 times without dropping the bat. Then they would get to decide who’s up first.

Even if no one else was around, the back steps to the house made for a perfect catcher. The return of the ball off the steps made for a surprise pop fly, grounder, or occasional line shot right back to you. A good sturdy wall somewhere was second best. Garage roofs let a pop fly roll back down to be caught.

Spring ending? That’s easy. School was over, and the nanosecond that happened summer started. “Mom? Can we stay up late tonight? There’s no school tomorrow!”

In the movie Field of Dreams, Moonlight Graham steps off the ballfield and into reality, outside of the markings of the diamond. He helps a choking girl who’s fallen. The father of the girl says, “Thank you, Doc.” Moonlight turns to the father who brought young Archibald “Moonlight” Graham to the dream baseball field and says “No, son…thank you.”

This may be my only chance to “pinch hit” for one of my favorite columnists. So, I tip my cap and say, “Thank You, Randy.” Hope I didn’t strike out!