THE LEAVING OF IT
Listen to Willie Mays, on what it is like to be an old athlete: "I remember the last season I played, I went home after a ball game one day, lay down on my bed, and the tears came to my eyes. How can you explain that? It's like crying for your mother after she's gone. You cry because you love her. I cried, I guess, because I loved baseball and I knew I had to leave it."
Secretariat's first foals have gone for fabulous prices at the big yearling auctions this year, but his oldest son, aptly named First Secretary, is not for sale. Nor will he ever run in a race.
First Secretary is a "bastard son" of the great racer out of the Appaloosa mare Leola, to whom Secretariat was bred in a test of his fertility as a stallion. Born two years ago this November, he is almost fully grown and bears a striking resemblance to his handsome father except for the characteristic white Appaloosa "blanket" spattered over his hips. He will not race because he was born at the wrong time of year (he officially became two years old last Jan. 1, when he was not yet 14 months old). Instead, beginning next February, he will stand at stud in Minnesota, where he will service Appaloosa mares.
First Secretary's one and only visit to a racetrack came last month when, to publicize the lively, burgeoning world of Appaloosa racing, his owners, Jack and Lynn Nankivil, shipped him to Albuquerque for an appearance before the $100,000 World Wide Futurity. But, says Jack Nankivil, unlike his sophisticated, well-traveled daddy, First Secretary is strictly a country boy and from now on he'll stay home on the farm.
Little League baseball, so often criticized, has another nonfan in Ed Lopat, who helped pitch the New York Yankees to five straight pennants a quarter of a century ago. Lopat, who managed briefly in the majors, is now a scout for the Montreal Expos, and he blames organized boys' baseball for what he describes as the sorry state of hitting in the big leagues today.
"It's a shame to see some of the batting averages—guys hitting .216 and .220," says Lopat, who was a good hitter for a pitcher (his batting average for his first seven years in the majors was .244). "Outfielders hit that low and play every day. It's the way kids are brought up now. You can't hit in those Little Leagues, not with every manager using some big stiff as his pitcher, scaring everyone to death. You're never going to be a hitter if you start out scared.
"The pitchers are way ahead in this game. They only need a year or two to jump in and make something of themselves. Look at the Fidrych kid. The pitchers keep arriving and the hitters keep dying.
"When I was a boy we never had those leagues. We scrounged for games on a lot. Some days all we did was hit. No game, just batting practice. No winning or losing. Just learning to play."