The Lombardo Trophy: Hardball fandom, over the airwaves

Kevin Foote/Senior Staff
Jerry Broody, left, and Deryl Wilkerson take in a Cal baseball game. The two men, who are both visually impaired, rely on their transistor radios to follow the action.

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The two blind men sit elbow to elbow, clutching radios to their ears. Perched just seven rows from the field, they can hear the bat falling to the ground as the batter leaves the box.

They feel the hard metal bleachers, the warmth of the afternoon sun and the friendship between them. It is two days after Deryl Wilkerson’s 60th birthday, and Jerry Broody is taking him to his first Cal baseball game, the 19-6 mauling by Stanford on Monday.

Jerry has been coming to Evans Diamond for seven years now. Deryl, who has only known the majors up to this point, instantly falls for the college game, where he says the kids “play their hearts out.”

Between them, the duo has attended dozens of pro games at the Oakland Coliseum and San Francisco’s AT&T Park, but the two both prefer Evans Diamond’s intimate setting.

“You hear the pop of the glove, you can hear the bat,” Jerry says. “You can hear it more when they catch it, like I didn’t have my radio up to my ear, and I would look out toward right field and I’d hear the” — he slams his tan right fist into his leathery left palm — “I’d say to my buddy, ‘Deryl, that’s an out, he caught it.’”

Both men know baseball inside and out. Jerry speaks with the grace of a broadcast veteran, easily articulating descriptions of cutoff men and 6-4-3 double plays. Of course, Jerry is a broadcast veteran of sorts: his yellow transistor is the more reliable of the pair’s radios, so he often relates the play-by-play to Deryl.

But the reliance on radio cuts both ways. As consumers of the spoken game, they can’t stand poor commentators — namely, those that hail from Stanford.

“Those guys, they’re lucky if they can tie their own shoes.” Jerry says in a rising voice, as Deryl chimes in with a guffawing “Yeah!”
“I don’t know what’s with them or what they’ve been smoking,” Jerry continues passionately. “But they’re Junior University, what can you say?”

They are baseball purists who bind themselves to the pace of the radio. In an age when news travels faster and hits harder, they are content to recline as the game plays on around them.

This is the way the game should be approached: with patience and precision. Does one need to be blind to see it?

Growing up in a household lacking TV and Internet, I can identify with Jerry and Deryl. I would fall asleep most summer nights to the sounds of Fenway coming from my bedside transistor. This radiowave relationship breeds a deeper tie to the American pastime, a hardball fandom which goes beyond the dedication you feel to other sports.

Because in rooting for a baseball team, you make a pledge greater than 48 or 60 or 90 minutes. You commit to 27 outs, however long they may take, and maybe — if you are lucky — a few more.

So as the days grow longer and the sun stronger, slow down. Find a few friends and grab some bleacher seats, then watch the dusk gather and the lights come on. This is America, where we have the luxury of leisure. Take advantage of it, and enjoy a few hours with the best game our country has to offer.

Because whether you side with sportswriter Red Smith (“Baseball is dull only to dull minds.”) or eccentric former pitcher Bill Lee (“In baseball, you’re supposed to sit on your ass, spit tobacco and nod at stupid things.”), you cannot refute the wisdom of Humphrey Bogart, ever: “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz.”

If your next stadium visit is your first, count yourself lucky to be experiencing the game’s sights, sounds and smells with a fresh palette. If it’s your 50th, embrace the renewal of your beautiful friendship with baseball. Either way, join Deryl, Jerry and me in toasting our nation’s true pastime by saying, “Play it, (Uncle) Sam,” and sitting back as time goes by.