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Back when the grass was real

Former sports editor explores the heyday of America’s favorite pastime

Created date

March 26th, 2013

On Monday, April 1, baseball fans across the country celebrate Opening Day of America s beloved pastime. Thanks to Don Reynolds, who lives at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., many of his neighbors have a newfound appreciation for the sport and its fascinating history. Prior to moving to Greenspring last April, Don, a former sports editor, taught a variety of classes for Northern Virginia s Lifetime Learning Institute (LLI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing continuing education opportunities to older adults. When I moved to Greenspring, LLI asked if I would lead some classes here, says Don. The faculty enjoys offering a diversified program, and I was happy to oblige. In preparation for Opening Day, Don recently led a class on the history of baseball. I ve loved baseball for as long as I can remember, says Don. I like to share my knowledge with others. I especially enjoy the early days of baseball, or as I like to say, back when the grass was real!

Child star

Don s love for baseball began at a very young age, when the famous commercial artist Paul Martin asked him to pose for a variety of print media campaigns. Paul came into my parent s Milwood, N.Y., restaurant because he loved my mother s pies, says Don. He asked her if he could photograph me. Once she knew of his reputation, she agreed. Believe it or not, that s how I got into sports. Many of the photos Paul took were of me with a baseball glove or a football in my hand. With a young boy s exuberance, Don began to follow the baseball legends of the 1930s, including two St. Louis Cardinals stars, left fielder Joe Medwick and first baseman John Mize. I used to write to the players personally and send them a return, self-addressed postcard, asking for an autograph, says Don. I used to wait at the post office for their replies. It was always so exciting to get mail from the players. Over the years, Don amassed quite a collection of autographs, including Medwick, Mize, and the legendary Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. At the time, it was a fun hobby for me, says Don. I never imagined that I was communicating with future Hall of Fame athletes, or that someday it would be considered a big deal. It was just fun.

Stepping into the action

As Don grew, so did his love of the sport. An athlete himself, he played baseball, football, and basketball. Baseball was always my favorite, he says, although I think it is the hardest to learn. Players need to learn a large variety of skills from hitting to catching to fielding. Don took a break from playing ball during World War II as he courageously served in the Army. Upon his return, he finished college and went to work as a sports editor in Westchester County, N.Y. He and his wife Sally raised four children and now have seven grandchildren, all of whom enjoy looking at his collection of baseball memorabilia, which he keeps tucked away in a safety deposit box. Even now, Don continues to look for opportunities to add to his remarkable collection. In 2012, he met and interviewed James Paul David Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher who spent his career with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He had a great career and was fun to watch, says Don. He pitched the seventh perfect game in Major League baseball history and after retiring served his home state of Kentucky in the House of Representatives and then as a senator.

Sharing knowledge

When LLI asked me to teach a class at Greenspring, baseball was one of the first ideas that came to mind, says Don. I ve taught the history of baseball before, and I think it is fun to go back in time to the heyday of the sport. Don s class, open to any member of the Greenspring community, includes three fact-filled seminars, each named after a popular baseball movie. The first, 61, looks at the rivalry between New York Yankee teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in their race to break Babe Ruth s 34-year-old home run record. There s a great story to tell there, says Don. 1961 was a year in which a lot of changes came to the game. In the second seminar, The Natural, Don leads his class in an exploration of the mythical qualities of baseball. And both fact and fiction come together in his last seminar, Field of Dreams. There is so much to learn and enjoy when it comes to the history of baseball, says Don. This class explores a time period that Hollywood helped shed some light on. But it s just a small piece of the whole picture.

Long season ahead

As the 2013 Major League baseball season begins, Don looks forward to following the Washington Nationals. Greenspring hosts a number of opportunities to catch a game, and I hope to do that, he says. He will also be busy preparing for a new class he will teach for LLI, Getting Hitler Out of Normandy in honor of the upcoming 69th anniversary of D-Day on June 6. Don, who served at the Battle of the Bulge, most recently visited Normandy in 2009. Each month, he speaks with students he met at the Bonne Savior School in Saint-Lo, Normandy, via Skype. Don also writes a column for the Greenspring resident paper, The Villager, entitled Vox Pop, in which he asks his fellow neighbors timely questions and shares their responses. I enjoy writing, teaching, and baseball, says Don. I m a lucky man to have the opportunities to do all these things at Greenspring.