Last night my wife and I watched the Kennedy Center Honors on television. The special is a yearly event that honors great American contributors to the arts. As such, it was a bit strange that an Englishman named Paul McCartney was one of the honorees. While watching Sir Paul get honored, which has to be a little lower on the list of getting knighted by the Queen of England, once again the thought occurred to me that the two great constants in my life have been the Beatles and baseball. My entire life has been woven in and among the threads of those two great institutions.
I was born the year Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown. Of course, I don't remember his great exploits that year, though I was born in the midst of his great season. I have no recollection of the 1961 Yankees and the chase of the Babe by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. I would have been five at the time and it seems weird that I remember other events of my life from those times but not the Yankees. Perhaps it was because my father was not a Yankee fan. I don't think we even owned a television at that point, but we might have.
My earliest baseball memories are from the Mets who began life when I was six or seven. My father adopted the Mets like all fans of that area who would not be Yankee fans. His father was also a Met fan and would have the games on television when we visited. I believe Lindsey Nelson was the play by play man. He had a nasally voice. My first live ball game was in Shea Stadium and I remember how beautiful it all looked back then since the site was the same as the World's Fair, held there shortly before (we went to that too).
Children's television was different back then. The shows were corny, but a lot less dark than they are now. There were shows like Wonderama and Bozo's Big Top. Wonderama was hosted by Sandy Becker. It was on his show that I first heard about the Beatles. It was 1964 and the Beatles were going to appear that night (Wonderama was on Sunday mornings) on the Ed Sullivan Show. Becker was going around to the kids in his studio audience asking them what they thought of the Beatles. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was eight years old.
But our curiosity was piqued and we begged our mother to stay up to watch. She relented and the whole family gathered around to watch Ed Sullivan. The rest, to use the old cliche, was history. I was hooked on the Beatles' charisma, their smiles and their music. That Christmas, my brother and I got Tiger Guitars as a present. They weren't real guitars of course, but we could act like we played them while listening to Beatles records.
The world was turning upside down then. President Kennedy had been shot. Grass roots music was softly echoing change. But it was the last little bit of innocence in my life. My father was still alive and my parents were not yet fighting every day. We had a comfortable life full of play and romping around. The Beatles music reflected that innocence. Their early music was more joyful and boyish than profound and deep like it would become. Their movies, Hard Days Night and HELP! came out and cemented them in our consciousness. Baseball was still a game of day games on weekends and double-headers. There was no hint of a player's private life or talks about contracts and money was never mentioned at all.
1965 began the dark years. The Beatles released Rubber Soul, which was less innocent. The Yankees began their long decline during the CBS years. My parents started fighting every day. Ugly words were thrown around and divorce proceedings were begun. The years after are all filled with confusion. My dad was killed in a car accident under dubious circumstances. The Beatles went psychedelic. We still loved them. We were just trying to figure out what it was all about. We got to see our share of games at Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees stunk. There were more assassinations. The world got scarier and the news got bolder.
I assume that the years between 1963 and 1970 shaped my character. Not knowing if I have a clue about what I am talking about, those years seemed to shape my insecurities, my longing for simpler times, my ache for innocence that have never left me. The Beatles, especially their early years, and my baseball memories are the constants in my life that bring me comfort and peace through all the turbulence. My consciousness went from Leave it to Beaver to Woodstock in the span of five years. I went from upper middle class to low middle class and from a traditional family to the anti-Brady Bunch.
It is impossible to describe the angst that living through such change can do to a soul. No days were ever truly innocent, but the darkness was simply hidden better. Now it is plain to see wherever you go and whenever you turn on any media. Baseball has become a battleground of contracts and drug prevention. Playoff and World Series games start ridiculously late and have lost a lot of the magic it used to hold. But the game itself, the wonderful slow moving intricacies that are so familiar still occur during every game. Seasons still unfold and youngsters become new stars and old stars fade. That is the baseball I hold onto.
The Beatles' career feels eerily familiar to my own life. From joy and innocence to complication and black times. Baseball has gone from innocence to every wart being revealed a thousand times over every day on every outlet imaginable. But like my life, there is still enough to savor and to remember and to continue to enjoy each and every day. You can wrap life and my music and my sport in the truth. But at the core of it all comes joy and it can't be killed and it can't be washed away. That joy is the thread of a life...a life still worth living.