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I Wore Babe Ruth's Hat

I Wore Babe Ruth's Hat: Field Notes from a Life in Sports

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    I Wore Babe Ruth's Hat
    Book Description:

    David W. Zang played junior high school basketball in a drained swimming pool. He wore a rubber suit to bed to make weight for a wrestling meet. He kept a log as an obsessive runner (not a jogger). In short, he soldiered through the life of an ordinary athlete. Whether pondering his long-unbuilt replica of Connie Mack Stadium or his eye-opening turn as the Baltimore Ravens' mascot, Zang offers tales at turns poignant and hilarious as he engages with the passions that shaped his life. Yet his meditations also probe the tragedy of a modern athletic culture that substitutes hyped spectatorship for participation. As he laments, American society's increasing scorn for taking part in play robs adults of the life-affirming virtues of games that challenge us to accomplish the impossible for the most transcendent of reasons: to see if it can be done. From teammates named Lop to tracing Joe Paterno's long shadow over Happy Valley, I Wore Babe Ruth's Hat reports from the everyman's Elysium where games and life intersect.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09742-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. 1-5)

    I have sat in a parking lot outside my old high school, decades after graduation, so choked with nostalgia that I felt as if I could not move. I have gone to reunions—and skipped them—with a case of sentimental dread that hung over for me days, and in a few instances, weeks. Always I wondered whether all the others—those who went and those who stayed home—wrestled with the same sense of past that I did: torn between a desperate need to believe that revisiting the old days might make them better than they were and the...


      (pp. 9-29)

      My urge to take a whiz had begun in the second inning. I was nine years old, playing shortstop for the Loomis Brothers Braves in a game against the Elks Yankees. I was at Cooper’s Field in West Chester, Pennsylvania, a county seat twenty-five miles west of Philadelphia. By the fifth inning, my dance from foot to foot had nothing to do with anticipating a batted ball and everything to do with the fact that in the absence of restrooms, the only place left for waste disposal was my blue jeans. I fought the possibility, but eventually control surrendered to...

      (pp. 31-45)

      In the mid-nineties, driving from Cancún, Mexico, to the inland jungle ruins of Chichén Itzá meant riding a long superhighway, made surreal by its utter desertion and by an unannounced tollbooth that rose in the midst of nowhere to shake down cars for twenty dollars and trucks for as much as two hundred. Despite the road’s dearth of travelers, the Mexican government nonetheless had posted large signs every few miles that read:

      No Maltrate

      Las Señales

      I had no idea what that meant. My poor grasp of foreign languages is rooted in sibling rivalry. My sister has a PhD in...

      (pp. 47-65)

      If Charles Darwin could have gotten a glimpse of Dennis Kubeck and me as high school wrestlers, he’d have had no need for his voyages to the Galapagos. All the material he needed to settle his hunches about natural selection, the ravenous desires of our genes, and the pecking order that results from both would have been right in front of him, displayed convincingly in a slew of high school gyms; in fact, he could have studied the evidence in great detail thanks to my father’s decision to memorialize a few of my inglorious efforts as a series of 35-mm...


      (pp. 69-83)

      I was in Jackie Robinson’s presence in the summer of 1962. I had traveled that August with my father a few hundred miles from our home outside Philadelphia to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Robinson was there as an invited guest, and I found myself before one of the games standing nearby as he stood momentarily alone near a dugout full of pint-sized Japanese players. My Dad said, “There’s Jackie Robinson—go talk to him.” I asked who he played for and was told he had been a Brooklyn Dodger. Well, I was a Phillies fan, and though...

      (pp. 85-103)

      1968 was a riotous year—literally, with fires burning through Newark, Baltimore, Washington, and Cincinnati, and figuratively, with the murder of a Kennedy and a King, all accented by thousands of smaller events that seemed foreboding omens of an unsettled—and for me, unsettling—future. In the fall of that year I enrolled at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, a place that I believed still might belong to the fifties, and so a place that promised to deliver a version of the past that I was desperate to reclaim and hold. The school had first caught my eye when the...

      (pp. 105-119)

      Greg Black, in his years with the Baltimore Ravens, was regularly kicked in the shins, pounded in the head, verbally taunted and abused, and threatened with arrest on more than one occasion. He was tough enough to survive the assaults and talented enough to garner two invitations to the year-end all-star bash, the Pro Bowl.

      Of course, in a technical sense, Greg was not a Raven. Rather, he was one of a trio whose contracts called for somewhat more distinctive and conspicuous uniforms. Alongside his compatriots Edgar and Allan, Greg played Poe, the shortest, orneriest, and most lovable of Baltimore’s...

      (pp. 121-137)

      The sports corollary of Voltaire’s declaration that some people are hammers and some are nails holds that some are born winners and others are destined to lose. It is a cruel and succinct summary of the athletic experience, and if it is true, then on the morning of November 7, 1961, as the football team from tiny Aurelian Springs High School in rural North Carolina approached the end of a winless autumn, they resembled little more than a bag of nails. It was that depressing thought that must have been with the Aurelian Springs coach when he arose early that...

      (pp. 139-153)

      The first time I ran under the tyranny of a stopwatch was in 1963, when my seventh-grade class undertook the battery of challenges that made up the presidential physical fitness test. Until then, I associated running with speed and the exhilaration that came with a recess dash across the schoolyard in a new pair of Red Ball Jets or the sixty-foot bursts of high anxiety that came with laying down a bunt in Little League. Now a new component had been added: searing pain in the lungs and legs, a discrete unpleasantness that set in about halfway through the mandated...


      (pp. 157-169)

      It’s October, and as I’ve done on nearly every autumn Saturday for four decades, I’ve settled in front of a television. As a panoramic shot captures a gorgeous landscape of distant mountains and rolling foothills, ESPN’s announcers reveal that we are “live from Happy Valley.” Scanning the more than one hundred thousand spectators in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, a camera comes to rest on a manic student who is gesticulating wildly, as contemporary fans tend to do when they realize their three seconds of fame have arrived. This one is wearing a full-headed rubber mask that caricatures the bulbous nose...

      (pp. 171-187)

      In 1984 I was one of five delegates the U.S. Olympic Committee sent to Olympia, Greece, for the International Olympic Academy, an educational forum on Olympic issues. On the eve of the conference’s final day I was out of time in which to explore the ancient stadium at Olympia free of the clamorous and despoiling effects of tourist hordes. I decided that daybreak might be my best chance to see it alone. When I arrived at 6 a.m., utter silence and a rising mist created a setting that would have thrilled a filmmaker. It thrilled me, and I had just...

      (pp. 189-203)

      In the provincial, defensive enclave that calls itself Baltimore, watching for signs that Cal Ripken Jr.’s career might be nearing an end had become, by September 1995, something like waiting for the Vatican smoke signals, a not altogether ludicrous parallel. During that month, Baltimore hosted two mega-events that showcased first the Pope and then Ripken as the saving seraphs of Catholicism and Baseball, respectively. It is instructive that tickets for—and blessings from—the Holy One riding in his Pope-mobile were free; on the other hand, you needed lots of luck or lots of bucks to glimpse Ripken and have...

      (pp. 205-222)

      A few days ago a friend and colleague went out for a jog and dropped dead of a heart attack. Viewings are not my cup of tea, but I went anyway, both repelled by and drawn toward the waxen figure resting in the open casket, a figure that, of course, bore little resemblance to the fit, trim, active friend, a former member of the University of Maryland track team and longtime physical education teacher in the public schools. His shocking end reminded me again that former Catholic priest Michael Novak had it right when he claimed that “the underlying metaphysic...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 223-226)
    (pp. 227-228)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-236)