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June 23, 2011

Put me in, coach! Baseball dreams from centerfield

FIrst base coach Babe Ruth sings with Brooklyn Dodger outfielders Tuck Stainback, Buddy Hasset and Kiki Cuyler during the '38 season.

When was the last time you saw the video that accompanies John Fogerty's 1985 hit, "Centerfield"? This is one of those songs that makes me indescribably happy (but I'll try). Baseball in its modern incarnation leaves me relatively unmoved, as do most professional sports. With rosters changing constantly, fans with an emotional attachment to a team are rooting for the uniform or the corporations that own them, not the players.

I was a kid during the last gasp of the days when the same guys played for a team year after year; hell, some players spent their entire careers with the same ball club! You weren't cheering for the owner; it was the boys in the outfield, the Sultan of Swat, Joltin' Joe who made your heart sing with the CRACK! of a line drive, or broke your heart with a pop fly to the infield and the waiting glove of a smiling shortstop.

This song -- it really should be the official song of Major League Baseball -- always makes me think of how it felt to watch the Dodgers when I was a kid, and the video does a brilliant job of evoking that ever-more-alluring time, with its depiction of clean-cut, smiling, handsome players, not a tattoo to be seen.

The video also highlights the decline in public standards in the stands. Check out how well dressed the fans are: Most men wear a hat, and a coat and tie, too; blue collar types wear clean, neat clothes.

The first game ever played at Ebbets Field, April 5, 1913. Click on the photo to see a larger version, then check out the well-dressed folks in the bleachers.

Yeah, it's more comfortable wearing sweats and a t-shirt, but dressing like a gentleman encourages you to act like a gent; the clothes really do make the man. Conversely, dressing like a slob only coarsens the ordeal of daily life in the big city.

Jackie Robinson gets a handshake as he scores a run during his first year with the Dodgers.

Where -- and when -- would you rather attend a game? Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, circa 2011, and risk being beaten into a coma for wearing the wrong jersey?

Or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, circa 1947, cheering Jackie Robinson against Joe DiMaggio and the reviled Yankees, as you yanked the fedora off your head and waved it about like a madman, cheering for your guys?

"Centerfield" makes me want to hop on the subway and emerge from the tunnels across the street from the long-ago demolished Ebbetts Field, buy a hotdog, and see if I can spot my grandfather in the stands, a young version of my dad at his side, maybe catch a glimpse of Babe at first base, telling one of the new guys to steal second.

Nostalgia's a sucker bet, but this song makes me long for a time I know only from photographs and stories told by my father. It sounded wonderful, which probably explains why Fogerty's anthem seems to strike such a chord in me.

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone - the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Well, I spent some time in the mudville nine, watchin’ it from the bench;
You know I took some lumps when the mighty Casey struck out.
So say hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio;
Don’t say "it ain’t so", you know the time is now.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes;
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride.
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all - a moment in the sun;
(pop) it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

I don't even own a glove and that makes me want to play! Hell, I'll even close the laptop and get off the couch.

That's how much I like this song.

Posted by Mike Lief at June 23, 2011 05:39 PM


I hear that the Bakersfield Blaze in Sam Lynn Ballpark will bring it all home.

And you are right about Dodger Stadium. The atmosphere has changed, even from just 15 years ago. Not a family place, unless your family includes foul-mouthed boors with psychological issues and self-control deficiencies.

Posted by: The Little Coach at June 24, 2011 08:46 AM