Baseball will always remain a child’s game at its roots

Baseball has got to be the most quotable of the major sports. From Yogi Berra to Bing Crosby, anyone involved with the game can say something classic or notable that will stand the test of time.

Something said by Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella in the late 1940s will always resonate with myself.

“You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you too.”

It comes to mind whenever a speedster like the Pirates’ Josh Harrison is stuck in a rundown and he tries everything in his power to evade a tag. I think about that quote whenever there’s a walkoff home run, and the slugger who belted the decisive blast is rounding third and heading for home with wide eyes as his jovial teammates await him at the plate.

Yes, Campanella knocked it out of the park with that quote. And on Tuesday, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera took those wide words and twisted them in a different way.

He knocked a ball out of Francisco Cervelli’s hand.

In the fourth inning of the Tigers 2-0 win over the Pirates, Cabrera struck out swinging on an A.J. Burnett pitch in the dirt. Cervelli, the Pirates catcher, picked up the ball and tagged Cabrera in the chest to complete the strikeout.

Cabrera’s first reaction was to slap Cervelli’s hand away. The ball then fell out of his grasp, drawing boos from the Pittsburgh crowd of more than 30,000.

Cervelli didn’t take exception to the apparent lack of sportsmanship. It was quite the opposite in his eyes.

“It’s just joking,” Cervelli said. “We don’t have any problems. That’s just the way he plays.”

Both Cabrera and Cervelli are natives of Venezuela. That playful style is a staple of baseball on the Caribbean Coast. Cervelli takes some of the sandlot he grew up on to the backstop he now plays on.

“I like to talk a lot when I’m catching and (Cabrera) talks a lot too,” Cervelli said, “but it’s nothing bad.”

Burnett can attest to that, too. He was a teammate with Cabrera on the Marlins from 2003-05.

“That’s his game,” Burnett said. “He’s a little kid playing baseball, and that’s just what he does. As much as you don’t want him to hurt you, it’s fun to watch him in certain ways, see how he goes about his business.”

Cabrera brought the jokes again on Wednesday. During a 12-minute delay in the top of the ninth inning of the Tigers 1-0 win, Cabrera was talking and laughing with Pirates fans sitting behind the protective netting near home plate.

This is the same guy who was nearly booed out of the building the night before. Then he was garnering more amusement than a sideshow act at the circus. Maybe the local fans listened to Burnett and Cervelli.

Maybe now they can understand what Campanella was talking about over a half-century ago. There’s a little boy, or girl, in all of us. Sometimes he, or she, just needs to come out and play.

(Peaslee, a Weirton resident, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)