With school out and lazy, dog days upon us, a young man's attention now turns to….baseball! As another season for the Grand Old Game under way, it's time to forget roundball and think hardball. A wonderful new book, "There Is No Cure For This Condition," by Thomas A. Droleskey (Chartres Communications, 185 pages, $14.95) helps us do just that.
I'm the first to admit my interest in baseball has waned considerably. Strikes, scandals, skyrocketing salaries, and spoiled sportsmen have nearly ruined the game for me. Boycotting is about the only pleasure I still derive from the national pastime.
It wasn't always that way. Growing up, I loved the sport with red-hot passion. Back in the 1960's, baseball was a game with a soul. While always a steadfast New York Yankee fan, I admired stars from other teams, names now bringing lumps to the throat just mentioning them - Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, Yaz, Musial, Rose, Clemente, Mays, Aaron, Oliva, Kaline, McCovey, the Robinsons - Brooks and Frank and others were revered members of my personal Hall of Fame.
I always suspected my mad, private passion was singular, a fever raging within that no one else shared. Hour after hour, I'd study The Sporting News stats, play board games like Strat-O-Matic, constantly finger my baseball cards. It's immensely heartening to know that elsewhere in this gigantic country of ours, there was another kid as fanatical as me - maybe even more so.
No book in recent memory captures the sheer fun of baseball's glory days so well as "There Is No Cure." Droleskey, a self-described "vagabond college professor/writer/speaker/pizza maker/marathon long-distance driver" is best known to baseball fans as the famed Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium. His love for both the game's nobility and its quirkiness are absolutely infectious.
It didn't take long for baseball to capture the heart of young Tom Droleskey, who grew up near Long Island. One trip to a major league stadium and he was hooked. "I loved everything about being in the ballpark," he writes, "Absolutely everything. It was wonderful. The huge scoreboard in dead centerfield, with the Rheingold beer logo underneath it, was an antique, with the positions of players entered by hand-held operators using placards (which flapped in the breeze). Vendors hawked all types of things, including pennants, yearbooks, programs, and an assortment of food that would make any self-respecting American boy very happy…The electricity in the stands was palpable."
Droleskey became a Shea Stadium regular for nearly forty years, attending more than 1600 ballgames, sometimes driving hours to reach the stadium. It was on May 4, 1976, however, that Droleskey's life changed forever as the Lone Ranger of Shea Stadium made his first appearance.
"I put on the hat and mask as the Mets were taking fielding practice," Droleskey remembers, "Heads started to bob up out of the Mets' dugout - Seaver, Koosman, Grote, Kranepool, Harrelson, Milner, Vail. Dave Kingman just stood in the on-deck circle, staring at me with his hands on his hips, a la George Reeves as Superman. I waved and smiled broadly. The put-on was having its intended effect."
"Most fans enjoyed it, joining in the fun," he continues, "As I am a ham it was great to see people smile and laugh. My 'act,' such as it was at the time, consisted largely of singing before the game and leading cheers during the game. It would grow organically as the season progressed, with Jackie Gleason-type dancing through the stands to follow in short order."
The "act" soon became a sensation as Droleskey was interviewed a number of times by print and broadcast media, and clips of the Lone Ranger were shown on local news programs, as well as on ESPN, Fox Sports, CNN, and other cable outlets. What began as a lark became a New York institution.
But there's more to Dr. Droleskey than simply being the Mets' Masked Man. Droleskey has carved a career as a powerful speaker and writer on the teachings of the Catholic faith. By his account, he's logged hundreds of thousands of miles traversing the country in his zeal for bringing souls to Christ and His Holy Church. Thus, his book thus possesses a spiritual dimension, making it both entertaining and evangelical.
As if by design, Droleskey first captivates the reader with his knowledge of baseball and pop culture before subtly moving to the more weighty matter of how the beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith serve as his enduring foundation for the daily crosses all must bear. "No Cure" then witnesses to the truths of the Faith in a delicate, non-threatening way.
Consider how Droleskey explains his ability to cope with a devastating romantic rejection:
"What I had not interiorized was the simple reality that each human being is loved by Love Incarnate, Who died for us on the wood of the Cross. That alone is our consolation and our glory. I was not resentful or bitter, just sad, nurturing my wounds, things which are destructive of one's spiritual equilibrium, forgetful of the fact that it was my sins which caused the greatest injustice of all, the Crucifixion of the God-Man."
"But it was through that experience I learned of the selfless, unconditional nature of true love, which always wills the good of another, the ultimate good of each person being the salvation of his or her immortal soul."
What separates "No Cure" from other baseball books is Droleskey's unique storytelling talents. He combines New York smarts (B.A. from St. John's University, M.A. from Notre Dame, Ph.D. from the State University of New York) and wackiness with an ability to laugh at himself and others. This is, in fact, part of the sturdy Catholic thread woven throughout the book - the same love of good cheer and loud laughter that made many saints joyous companions to be with.
As Droleskey writes, "A fan in a wheelchair stopped me after a game asking why I was not wearing the hat and mask more frequently. I mumbled an apologetic answer, telling him I was busy with my writing and speaking. That did not satisfy him. He said, "Sir, you bring joy to my heart when you wear your hat and mask and entertain us during the games." Other fans have said similar things. So, as one of my former students told me in 1995, "There is no living down your reputation. You're stuck with it. We expect you to live up to it."
And live up to it, indeed, he has with this fine, funny book.
Dr. Droleskey's "There Is No Cure for This Condition" can be ordered from Chartres Communications at the Toll-Free 888-405-2029
or send a check for $15.95 + 5. Shipping and Handling for a total of $20.95 (add 7.5% tax in New Jersey) to:
PO Box 504
Franklin, NJ 07416
*The reviewer James Bemis is an editorial board member and columnist for California Political Review and a columnist for Catholic Exchange "The Edge."