THE NEWBERG REPORT — OCTOBER 18, 2007
The Rockies were in Day Two of an eight-day fall vacation, while Boston and Cleveland were on a 550-mile road trip. No games were played on Wednesday. But here in Dallas, it was a great, great, unforgettable baseball day.
I got to be in the same room, for 90 minutes, with the Say Hey Kid.
So were a thousand other people, none of whom I suspect had a better day than Eric Nadel, who was honored with the opportunity to interview Willie Mays and whose impeccable, comfortable style made it feel like the rest of us were just eavesdropping on a casual, dynamic conversation between two baseball people. One of them, among the finest broadcasters in the game today. The other, the Greatest Player Ever.
Before Mays was introduced to the SMU Athletic Forum crowd, the great Bobby Bragan delivered his inimitable rendition of “Casey at the Bat,” 119 years after it was written and 13 days before Bragan will turn 90. They say Pavarotti could sing the phone book and give you chills. Baseball through Bragan’s voice is equally perfect.
I wish I were around to have seen Willie play. The video footage is great, the stories too, but being around that man yesterday made me realize how unique he is, and must have been, as a personality to be treated to on a daily basis. Willie Mays loves him some him, but it doesn’t come across as brash, or self-aggrandizing, or off-putting. It’s sort of an infectious happiness, an appreciation of how blessed he was and is, a recognition of how stinkin’ fun his life has been.
When I saw Manny Ramirez throw his arms up Tuesday night as his no-doubt, sixth-inning drive to right center merely brought the Red Sox to within 7-3, my thoughts didn’t turn to whether Jensen Lewis was going to drill Mike Lowell with the next pitch, or whether someone else would plant one in the side of a different Boston hitter, maybe Manny himself, when the game was on ice three innings later.
I just enjoyed the moment, the way Manny did. There’s not enough of that in baseball today.
Manny isn’t the complete player that Willie was. He may not do one thing as well as Willie did. But he plays with Willie-like exuberance, and that counts for something. Kirby Puckett was known for the same enthusiasm on the field when I was a kid, but even he was less of a character than Manny Ramirez is, less of an eccentric. “Manny being Manny” is such a recognizable baseball catchphrase because, perhaps sadly, he’s so undeniably one of a kind in today’s game.
Yesterday, Willie Mays offered anecdote after anecdote that usually ended with him driving home some point about how great a baseball player he was, but it was never offensive.
It was just Willie being Willie.