Wanted: A back-to-nature move for football and baseball games

Phooey on synthetics. Phooey on ``All sales are vinyl.'' Phooey on plastic drinking cups. Phooey on football teams that play their games on a rug in a dome. While I don't want this to sound like True Confessions, I like to watch football in the rain. I like it when a wet ball slips through a receiver's hands and is picked off by a defensive back. I enjoy seeing 250-pound linemen sloshing around in the primeval ooze. I can't wait to see the spray come off a football when it's kicked!

If I had my way, both football and baseball would be given back to the elements and natural turf. The twelfth player on any football team would always be the weatherman. I don't mind a guy wiping his feet after he comes off the football field, but I hate to see him wipe them before he goes on. Football isn't a vacuum cleaner, it doesn't need the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

If I want to see a flat green surface under lights, I'll go to a pool hall. I want exactly what Woody Hayes wanted - three yards and a cloud of dust. I don't want 22 guys in lily-white shoes that will never lose their luster. I want Raymond (Ducky) Pond under a leaky sky.

Most of you have probably never heard of Pond. Well, he played both ways for Yale during the 1920s.

The rain was falling on the just and the unjust that day in 1923, when Harvard fumbled the ball away to its arch rival. Pond may have thought he was only reaching for a loose football (historians describe it as more of a desperate scoop), but after picking up the pigskin and sloshing 67 yards for a touchdown, what he actually caught was immortality. Forever after, Raymond would be known as Ducky.

Could such a thing happen today? It could and still does occasionally at games played at places like Harvard Stadium or the Yale Bowl. But it could not happen at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, at the Astrodome in Houston, or at the Superdome in New Orleans.

If football loses an appealing natural dimension on roof-covered synthetic surfaces, so does baseball. Once, if a manager had a great pitching staff and a plodding outfield, he could tell his groundskeeper to let the grass grow high enough to brake any ball that skipped through the infield. Casey Stengel did that one year with the old Boston Braves, and two of his veteran pitchers, Jim Turner and Lou Fette, each won 20 games. Too bad, but now the only blades most ballplayers can relate to are those used for shaving.

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