IF THEY BUILD IT, YOU WILL COME
By Ken Shimamoto
I love the American myth of baseball. I love it much more, in fact, than I love watching any games, which are so numerous and so long, with so little action (unlike basketball and soccer, which require more stamina from their athletes and more attention from their fans, and football, a 60-minute simulacrum of warfare stretched out to three hours for TV). An important signifier from my early childhood is the World Series Yankees of ’60 and ’61 – beating the Pirates by every measure of merit in the first, but still losing the Series; and the two doomed titans Mantle and Maris chasing the ghost of Babe Ruth in the next.
Two of my very favorite films of all time – Bull Durham and Field of Dreams -- are about baseball; coincidentally, both of ‘em star Kevin Costner before he started to suck around Waterworld time. (His later ballpic, For the Love of the Game, is an unmitigated stinker as bad as Oliver Stone’s football movie.) In their ways, both of ‘em capture what’s classic and American about the game. I mean, who are you gonna believe – James Earl Jones or that creep from Thirtysomething?
Much more to the point is Bull Durham, a romantic comedy about the hungry young guys on their way up to The Show, the broken-down old guys on their way back down, and The Wimmin That Love Them. Minor league teams, to me, always seemed like the way to see the game, much more so than paying a godzillion dollars to sit in a skybox. It’s almost idyllic: Sit in the infield, eat a hotdog, drink a beer, enjoy the breeze, and watch the play-by-play without having to gape at a Jumbotron. Dig: It’s just $6 for general admission seating to see your Fort Worth Cats play at LaGrave Field on the north side -- a block east of North Main, on NE 7th Street. You can’t even get into a rock dump for that anymore, and the Cats are a proven winner.
In Wayne Terwilliger’s last year as the Cats’ manager, 2005, he took them all the way to the top of the Central League. Then when the league folded and the Cats jumped over to the American Association, new skipper Stan Hough led them to the top again, two years in a row. They’ve got a proud history, too. Over the years, the team’s roster has boasted five Hall of Famers. Legendary manager Bobby Bragan ran the club back in the ‘40s, when the Fort Worth Panthers (AKA the Cats) were still a farm club for Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers; major league star Maury Wills was the team’s first African-American player back in the ’50s. Owner Carl Bell built the new LaGrave Field on the site of the old one in 2002, with home plate on the same spot as it was in 1926. In 2005, 87-year-old Bragan came out of retirement to manage the Cats for one game, and so became the oldest person ever to be ejected from a professional baseball game. New manager Chad Tredaway took over the team last October.
The second annual CatsFest will be from 9am-1pm, Saturday, March 8th, at LaGrave, with on-field activities, bounce houses for kids, and autograph sessions with current and former Cats players. There’ll be an Easter Seals “Walk With Me” at 8am, and a season employee job fair from 10am till noon. Opening day’s Thursday, May 8th. The Cats will take on (and hopefully, um, eat) the Sioux Falls Canaries.