Norman Rockwell, Game Called Because of Rain, Post Cover 4/23/49
By Carl Belz
September’s nearly here, and that means preparing for the stretch run, the playoffs, and, hopefully, a shot at another World Series championship ring for the Old Pros. You think putting together an exhibition is challenging? Well, try putting together a winning baseball team, year-in and year-out, in this day and age. It used to be the Old Pros were, like, the only game in town, a sure bet for October glory, but not anymore. Not with expansion and free agency, mixed media, globalism, a luxury tax, installations, photography, you name it. And not with the Sculptors Guild, Women Only, the Asian Bloc, and Contemporary Whiz Kids, to name just a few of the new contenders, breathing down the Old Pros’ necks and siphoning off emerging and/or previously overlooked talent.
But we’re not here to wax nostalgic about the old days or sing the blues about gentler, simpler times now lost to us, we’re here to present a starting lineup that we believe can compete with any current pretenders to the ancient and still-revered throne of baseball supremacy. To wit:
Catcher: Rembrandt. No question about it. There he is, front and center, looking right at us, his weathered gaze determined and stoical, his expansive barrel chest signaling nothing gets by him, reminding us he’s the physical and spiritual place where the buck stops. He’s got leadership written all over him, he’s our anchor.
1st Base: Roger van der Weyden. Lean, poised, and self-contained, but bristling with competitive energy, what we call wired. Currently a league leader in triples, suggesting what it means to take it to the limit, to squeeze an extra base from a rope to the gap in right-center that puts renewed pressure on the opposition when they least expected it.
2nd Base: Goya. Feisty, testy Goya, always on the alert for a chance to get an edge, always ready to go toe-to-toe with an opponent on behalf of a teammate; he’s a sparkplug, his uniform’s always dirty, he’s an inspirational kind of guy.
Shortstop: Velasquez. Tell me, who could be better? No one! Velasquez was born to this position. Stylish and elegant beyond words, he makes the phenomenal look natural, as though there’s nothing to it, but don’t be deceived by that, not for a minute. And don’t forget, he’s no slouch when it comes to the stick either—he can go deep with the best of them.
3rd Base: Caravaggio. Swarthy, defiant, a guy with an attitude—“Wanna hit one past the hot corner? Give it a try. Wanna throw one up and in? You’ll pay the price.” The kind of player you want on your side, not your opponent’s.
Left Field: Rubens. Who could argue with Rubens? Painter supreme, diplomat, entrepreneur, darling of royalty, plus a trophy wife on his arm. A bit of a showman at times, but he goes out and puts up big power numbers year after year. Always on the short list for MVP, he’s baseball’s reigning good will ambassador to the world at large.
Center Field: Michelangelo. I know, I know, the Big M occasionally gets distracted by his hassles with the owners, but he’s always there when it counts. Besides, we really, really want a big-time guy who goes both ways, who’s got the painting thing going and also the sculpture thing, a guy with the kind of presence at the plate that makes opposing hurlers want to pitch around him—in a word, a force, and M’s nothing if not that.
Right Field: Breughel, the Elder. The people’s choice, and rightly so. You feel he’s one of the guys you hang around with, have a few pops with, share stories about life’s ups and downs with—and he can sure tell those stories like nobody else! He affects the clubhouse chemistry in the same way, he’s as valuable off the field as he is on it.
Pitchers: I’m going with two, Matisse and Picasso, both relative newcomers to the roster, but both ready, in my mind, to accept the challenges linked to the Old Pros’ long and distinguished tradition. Picasso’s the power guy, going after every hitter, mano a mano, always ready to pit his best against the best the batter brings to the plate. And Matisse? Matisse embodies the old saying about how 90% of pitching takes place from the neck up. He throws up a mixture of what appear to be sweet softies, but the helpless batters can only guess what the next one will actually be—how much pace it’ll have, how much spin, which way it’ll go at the last moment, and then score another out for the guy known around the league as Bad Henry.
So there you have it, a lineup that’s got everything: speed, quickness, defense, power. I like our chances, and I look forward to October, but we’ll just have to see how it all plays out on the field. For now, here’s one you can take to the bank: the Old Pros won’t be put away easily.