Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 8, 2013

Baseball, Broadway are theater in their own way

It is, to be sure, the most magical day of the year -- the opening day of the baseball season.

There are any number of ways to show this, even in an era where baseball has been bypassed across the nation by the National Football League as the great American game. But I prefer to do it by going back almost 30 years into a sports writing career that was built upon the game of baseball.

It was 1985, mid-January, when the most wonderful sports editor I ever worked with sent me to New York City for a crossover story aimed at showing just what baseball meant in this land of ours. The subject of my search was a wonderful actor, a man who was appearing in the Broadway play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama in which he had earned a Tony Award.

That role may be forgotten now across our land, but the actor is not, for he is Joe Mantegna, whose current presence is as a featured character on “Criminal Minds,” a show in which he portrays FBI Special Agent Joe Rossi.

What brought this itinerant baseball writer there in the dead of winter was that we had heard that Mantegna had a shrine within his dressing room dedicated to his beloved Chicago Cubs, with whom he had suffered as a youth and offered him the backdrop for the play he would author in 1977 about the famed bleachers in Wrigley Field called “Bleacher Bums” after the faithful who reside there.

So here is what I encountered as I walked into Mantegna’s dressing room.

One wall is a shrine to the Cubs. There is a New York Daily News sports page proclaiming the Cubs champions of the National League East. There are baseball cards and pictures, including one of Mel Hall as a Cub.

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