JIM THIELMAN — Opening Day: It’s Greek To Me

Dunno why, but for the past half-century, Major League Baseball has missed the fun-filled opportunity to have Don Demeter throw out the first pitch of each season.

Don Demeter.
Don Demeter.

The lanky, giraffe-necked Oklahoman will be 83 this year and retired from baseball for 50 years. It’s not as if he couldn’t have been capably handling this chore.

If you’re not starting to see the high-brow angle to this already, read on.

Every kid who struggled through a Greek Lit class knows the it-happens-every-spring tale of Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture.

Demeter was sort of like former Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Delmon Young. Delmon caught baseballs as if he had a shovel for a glove.

Harvest and Ag queen Demeter also had the bad hands, if you want to look at her story in baseball terms. Which we can. It’s not as if we’re dealing with facts here. It’s Greek Lit.

So the official scorer gave Demeter an E-8 (error, centerfielder) when she bobbled daughter Peresphone, sending her tumbling into the hands of underworld Greek god Hades. Hades then carried Persephone to the hoary netherworld, which I envision to be a place with an Embers on every block and no parking.

Demeter went chasing after Persephone, much in the manner in which Delmon once turned outs into doubles in the left-field corner of Target Field. While Demeter was chasing Persephone amidst a chorus of boos, crops were dying and winter arrived in Athens. Although snowfall was generally limited to the city’s northern suburbs.

Eventually, Demeter worked out what is essentially a player-to-be-named later deal with Hades, who turned agreeable largely because he was Demeter’s brother. He gave her halfsies on Persephone.

So spring is when Demeter gets custody of Persephone. That’s when stuff blossoms and people forget about things like “what could have been” for former Vikings’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Umpires yell, “Play ball!” A yelp that should come after Don Demeter tosses a baseball to christen the season.

Demeter retired from baseball at age 32 in 1967. Seven men have been commissioner of baseball since, yet the 6-foot-4 string bean doesn’t get a call to toss out the first pitch of the season?

What the hell.

Don Demeter, it’s only fair to mention, was a much better fielder than the Greek version.

From late 1962 to the middle of ’65, Don Demeter didn’t make an error. That’s 266 games. And when it ended, it was because of a dog.

Trained to run a fresh second base out to the grounds crew, the pup was mistakenly let loose after a ball was hit to Demeter. The dog arrived at Dick McAuliffe about the same time Demeter’s throw came in. The ball went between the shortstop’s legs for an error.

Really, you can look it up.

This whole Greek-baseball thing has numerous possibilities.

In Greek mythology, the spirits of heroes and season-ticket holders were sent to another plane of existence called Elysium, or Elysian Fields. Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., is believed to be the site of the first organized baseball game in 1845.

This gives Hoboken a claim to something other than Frank Sinatra.

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins in his catching days.
Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins in his catching days.

Which brings us to Jack Daniel’s. Sinatra’s favorite booze was Jack Daniel’s. Sinatra, in fact, put the brand on the map.

There is no better way to salute the opening of baseball season today than by pouring a Jack a la Frank: Over four ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass, splashed with a little water (Sinatra’s body guards would tell bartenders, “Don’t make it too strong. He don’t like it that way”).

Then raise that glass to Don Demeter, a man unjustly forgotten.

Leave a Reply