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First published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 14, 2023 by FDNM manging editor Hank Nuwer

Once upon a time, a baseball game took its own sweet time from start to finish. A pitcher dawdled with a resin bag on the mound. A batter called time two-three times in a single at-bat before digging cleats just right into the dirt at home plate. A manager might come out to the mound to discuss the weather with a tired pitcher just to give a reliever in the bullpen more time to warm up.

No more, now baseball is a game of time limits and pitch clocks and larger bases and no more shifts against a pull hitter.

Now I’m never one to say baseball back in MY day, but hey, baseball back in my day was a relaxing and enjoyable snoozola at the park. As author Roger Angell put it: “Whatever the pace of the particular game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us into its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”

I still love baseball. I played in elementary school, high school and in college. But my best memories stem from a magazine assignment I had for magazines in Denver and Buffalo to suit up and play first base on an assignment for the Montreal Expos’ champion Triple A team, the Denver Bears.

I came to spring training as a participatory journalist in Daytona Beach in 1982, the year I celebrated my 35th birthday. I was no dummy. I had a strength coach and a bunch of pals to pitch me batting practice and knock me grounders and fly balls. I lost my belly and butt after three months daily on the track, weights, and baseball field. At 6 feet, I weighed 190 and bench pressed well over 200 pounds.

I showed up in mid-February and was introduced all around to clubhouse attendants, security guards, players, coaches and managers Felipe Alou and Jim Fanning. Then player and now Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona was a great guy and treated me on the field as if I was his new best friend.

Batting practice time came and Alou, a former star with San Francisco, pitched me batting practice and put them right down the middle at three-quarter speed to give me confidence and chase my butterflies. I found my groove as a right-handed batter and started belting line drives to left and center. “Hey Hank,” manager Jim Fanning said. “I thought your magazine was sending us a writer, not a ballplayer.”

Hank Nuwer at bat against the Orlando Twins

After playing for the Expos, Hank Nuwer headed to Dodgertown in Vero Beach to have a catch with Dodger hero Steve Garvey.

Hank Nuwer and manager Felipe Alou who threw him easy batting practice pitches.

Hank Nuwer at batting practice

Hank Nuwer in batting practice

Hank Nuwer on the cover of Denver Magazine

Hank Nuwer playing high school baseball at Cheektowaga Central. Also on team was Dick Bihr, later a legendary Buffalo State basketball coach.

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I played in two games and did mostly all right. I snagged a throw from the shortstop that had to be over 92 mph and had a wicked hop. I hit a bunch of foul balls before striking out and that was against hard-throwing young guys who had no idea I was a fraud masquerading as a player. It felt good to know that at least I could still put the bat on hard curves and wicked fast balls. However, I had one error at first base when I failed to snag a roller on the run a la Bill Buckner.

I learned a few lessons. Felipe Alou taught me how he was harassed by his first manager Del Crandall when he came up from the Dominican Republic and could not yet speak English. He wondered how many fine foreign players never made the Big Show because racists controlled their destiny.

One of my coaches, former Cub shortstop, taught me in a group lesson that I had to mold myself into being the kind of player and person who wanted the ball hit at him in the most crucial moments of a game. He also told us that we must be ready for life’s most unexpected moments. You cannot prepare for a bad moment or a crisis but you can vow to be the kind of person who meets a challenge instead of shuddering and fleeing. I only think of that advice a couple hundred times a year to deal with cruel and bullying people or circumstances beyond my control.

Good gracious. “Back in my day when I played” is now 41 years in the past. Baseball, which sportswriter Tom Boswell called “the leisurely pastime of our national mythology” has been sped up for fans who have the attention span of a goldfish.

Nonetheless, I’m on Gamechanger on my phone and I catch every at-bat of my 14-year-old grandson Aden as he plays for a travel squad in Michigan.

You’ll recognize me at Alaska Goldpanners games this season seated next to my wife Gosia. I’m the guy screaming from the cheap seats, “Hey Ump, what’s your dang hurry!”