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Lost in October shadows are heroes of the diamond

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Up North the frost will be on the pumpkin, and the leaves will turn color, crunching under one's feet, exuding a pungent, distinctive aroma.

October in the South means somewhat cooler weather, shorter days, twilight eves that evoke memories of earlier falls, other times, other Octobers.

But there is something missing this October. There is a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that all is not well. That this October is different. And so it is.

Where are the men of October in their pinstripe uniforms and baseball caps? Where are the umpires ready to do battle in the name of baseball? And where are the stadiums bursting with fans who created a national sport, a national passion, a much loved game that endured beyond the wildest dreams of those itinerant players of the early 1900s?

Will we survive an October without a World Series? Sure. It may leave a void in our television viewing and it may tug at the heartstrings of rabid fans, but we will survive and, perhaps, look at the men of October with a different perspective.

I will not miss some of the men of baseball.

I will not miss the pampered millionaires of the 1980s and the 1990s such as Jose Canseco who would not go to the wall to catch a fly ball that subsequently bounced off his head and into the stands for a home run. After the game, he laughed, made light of his team's losing and called it "just another game." If he had been a member of the 1949 Yankees, he would have been a pariah until he experienced what we now call an "attitude adjustment." And the '49 Yankees would have implemented that attitude adjustment.

I will not miss the prima donnas of the 1960s who became television celebrities and let it go to their heads. I will not miss the Mickey Mantle who, by his own admission, showed up less than sober on occasion for afternoon games at the Yankee stadium after a night on the town. Now he regrets not being a role model to the youngsters who adored him.

I will not miss the Pete Rose who gambled on baseball, lied about it, was kicked out of baseball and still had the chutzpah to predict he would be back under the mistaken impression that fans would forget him thumbing his nose at a sport that gave him everything.

I will miss true baseball heroes, the men who behave decently and decorously on and off the field. They are men who crash into the wall to save a run for their teams. They are men who play with a love for the game and give everything of themselves. They conduct themselves with a moral and ethical responsibility to their fans, especially the impressionable youngsters who emulate them.

And we may judge them by the content of their character.

Two of these men met frequently on the playing field and met again several months ago in Citrus Hill to public accolades.

In baseball lore, they were called the Yankee Clipper and the Splendid Splinter. You may also know them by the names Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.

DiMaggio brought a dignity to baseball unknown before his time. He always gave his best ("Because there might be someone out there who never saw me play before"). He was humble in victory, proud in defeat and, legend says, never looked back at an umpire. The charisma of DiMaggio has not again been seen in Yankee Stadium.

Ted Williams had a fierce pride. Skilled, dedicated, he hungered to be the best and he was the greatest hitter of his era. Legendary on the field, the last to hit over .400, winning the Triple Crown twice, and the American League batting championship six times, he had a reputation as a competitor that was nonpareil.

Off the field he gave of himself unstintingly as he visited boys' clubs, taught youngsters techniques of hitting ("Be quick and swing slightly up. . . . Get it in the air. . . . Get it in the air") and imparted his love of baseball to succeeding generations.

The Ted Williams Museum in Citrus Hill commemorates his life.

There were others who played the game with the realization that they were role models, whether they wanted to be or not.

After the long shadows of our Octobers have blurred the playing fields, after the last hurrahs have echoed from the stands, we will look back in gratitude for those sports heroes who were worthy of our admiration and our respect.

Arcangela Scime is a resident of Port Richey.