My first job right out of college was as a production assistant on Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary. The gig lasted about five months and when it was over I couldn’t find another paying job in the movie business so I spent most of the summer in central park watching softball. I pretended to look for work but really I hid out in the park instead. I was a regular goldbricker, but was not alone. I discovered a group of regulars who would hang around the great lawn and watch games all afternoon. Fat guys with red bellies who would rotate around the fields to stay in the sun. A skinny black dude, Smokey, used to sell Snapple, water, soda and beer. I’d follow an animated umpire named Butch and watch all of his games.
My favorite league was the Press League (This may be the same league that our man Cliff later played in when he was with Viking). The games just had more juice than the Broadway League. The New York Times had a wonderful second baseman at the time, an older woman who wore braces on both knees. She was a fluid fielder, the kind of person you just wanted to talk baseball with. The kind of person you’d be honored to have a catch with.
I thought about her a few days ago when I read this piece about the Press League in the City Section of the Sunday Times:
Each spring for at least three decades, starting in late April or early May, media softball with all its pranks and rivalries returns to the diamonds of Central Park. The undertaking involves dozens of players, largely in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
And this season, coming as it does on the heels of possibly the worst year in memory for the publishing industry, the idea of repairing from the office to the green of the park seems especially appealing.
Over the past year, caught between an ailing economy and the struggle of print publications in an increasingly digital age, one after another title has trimmed its sails, migrated to the Web or closed up shop entirely. The shock has been felt especially in New York, home to so many publications and to so many who read them or work for them. And the body count continues to rise, with the attendant impact on the softball season.
February brought the folding of Trader Monthly, a magazine for the financial community, whose team planned to play this year. On April 30, Condé Nast announced the closing of Portfolio, its glossy business monthly, laying off more than 80 people. It had planned to play the New Yorker on June 16.