Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lighting Up the Night

If you've been watching the baseball playoffs, you have undoubtedly seen several games played at night — even some that weren't intended to be at night but slipped into prime time thanks to rain delays.

Night games are routine — in both regular season and postseason play — now.

But it was done for the first time in the World Series 40 years ago today.

Night games weren't new in 1971. Major league baseball had been playing night games since 1935, and the first night All–Star game was played in 1943, but postseason games continued to be played during daylight hours.

Then, on this night in 1971, everything changed. The lights came on in Pittsburgh, and baseball fans across the nation watched the World Series in prime time.

Baseball continued to play some World Series games during the day — primarily the games that were played on Saturdays and Sundays — but, by 1987, every World Series game was played under the lights.

Thus, a modern baseball fan under the age of 30 probably would have no memory of a time when some World Series games were played during the day — as they were when Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle played the game.

While it has meant greater access to the games for more people, I always felt something was lost when they stopped playing World Series games during the day.

I remember when I was in elementary school, and my friends and I were very interested in the World Series that was being played. The Series was between two baseball powerhouses of that time, the Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds, and my friends and I were following it as closely as we could, but the weekday games were all in the afternoons — when we were in school.

Our principal must have been a baseball fan because he sympathized with us and told us we could watch the games on the TV that was in the cafeteria as long as we remained silent and did not chatter among ourselves. We were on our best behavior, and we got to watch the games — while our classmates spent those afternoons in the dull pursuits we baseball followers had escaped. It was a delicious feeling — like being allowed to play hookey with the principal's blessing.

Perhaps he was the one who monitored us during the games. I don't recall. I only remember that I was totally engrossed in watching future Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson (a local hero, having come from nearby Little Rock) and Frank Robinson lead the Orioles against Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and the Big Red Machine.

As long as I can remember, there has been something special about the sight of a baseball field bathed in sunshine — even if your lungs couldn't relish the smell of the dirt and the freshly cut grass.

The picture in my mind from that World Series is of sun–drenched fields, even though the games were being played in northern cities, and crisp baseball uniforms. Well, it seemed that way on a black–and–white TV.

It is a cherished memory and experience for me — the kind of pleasure 21st century boys will never know. Too bad.

Oh, and just for the record.

Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in that first World Series night game.

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