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Still America’s pastime?

Charlie's Inside Corner: April 13

POSTED April 12, 2018 11:03 p.m.

Is baseball still America’s pastime?
Perhaps not as much as it was 50 to 100 years ago but as spring turns into summer, thoughts of footballs and basketballs get pushed aside as we flock to the diamond to watch a skill level that ranges from kids playing T-Ball to the major leaguers.
There is no question that baseball is played by more age levels, more skill levels, than any other sport.
What’s wrong with baseball can also be its charm.
Such as, “the games last too long.”
There is a certain charm about the leisurely pace of a baseball game whether it be in Yankee Stadium or on the sandlot in Great Bend, Larned, Hoisington, Ellinwood or countless other small communities in Kansas.
That charm can also be where the games are played and there is no better venue for that in Kansas than Larned’s Moffet Stadium. The stands sit on the side of a hill, far above the playing field which enables fans to have a terrific view of the entire field and a perspective like no other ballpark in the state.
Baseball in Kansas has a long and storied history, dating to a time when it was the social attraction that knit communities together.
In past years, every community had their “town team.” They were baseballs team made up of strapping young men up through the old-timers who could still swing a bat or toss a nasty curveball.
The very “manhood” of the young men in many communities was measured by whether or not they could beat the town baseball team from the community down the road. Very few holiday festivities were held that didn’t include a baseball team and quite often a significant amount of money would change hands out beyond the dugouts as fans from both teams laid their weekly wages down in favor of their local heroes.
Baseball was a mirror of social, cultural and economic trends that were woven throughout rural Kansas. The ballpark was often a source of community pride and, most certainly, the town baseball team was. So much so that it was a common practice to bring a “ringer” or two, and pay them a few dollars just so “our town could beat your town.”
That has led, over the years, to the rivalries that exist in high school athletics, but it truly isn’t the same. That fervor, that pride, that overwhelming NEED to prove our town was better than theirs is something that remained with baseball in the summertime.
In addition to “Town Teams,” there were many semi-pro baseball teams throughout rural Kansas. Although said to be amateur, the Kansas Ban Johnson leagues were a haven of outstanding baseball players who lived in communities to work jobs locally but, in reality, to play baseball.
The “BJ” teams, as they became known were very prevalent and strong throughout Kansas in the 1940s and 1950s. Western Kansas was the locale of the “Western Division” and teams represented many cities including Great Bend, Larned, Lyons, McPherson, Dodge City, Garden City, Hays, Liberal and Hutchinson. It was college-level, and better, baseball and afforded towns that old swagger that once was placed with the town teams.
If you love baseball and you like Kansas history, be sure and pick up a copy of Mark Eberle’s “Kansas Baseball.” It’s a treasure of the underappreciated history of the role of baseball in rural America. So, as you take in a baseball game, whether it’s T-Ball, Little League, American Legion, high school, college or professional, remember those words old HARRY CARAY used to sing out of the announcers booth:

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME — TAKE ME OUT TO THE CROWD
BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKERJACK — I DON’T CARE IF I NEVER GET BACK
SO IT’S ROOT, ROOT, ROOT, FOR THE HOME TEAM — IF THEY DON’T WIN IT’S A SHAME
IT’S ONE, TWO, THREE STRIKES YOU’RE OUT — AT THE OLD BALLGAME!

Buddy Tabler is a guest columnist for the Great Bend Tribune and his views don’t necessarily reflect those of the paper. He can be reached at budtabler@gmail.com.

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