- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Think about this scene for a minute. After one of the most exciting, exhausting at-bats you would ever want to see, the batter finally gets hit with a pitch. He starts to walk slowly toward first base as if he were about to collapse from fatigue.The trainer comes running out of the dugout and puts a cape on the batter. But wait! The batter throws the cape off, runs back toward home, picks up the bat and stands there ready to swing again.”Please, please, please,” the batter cries, as he is led down the first-base line with the trainer again covering him with the cape. They repeat the scene again, and the crowd goes wild, yelling, “James Brown, James Brown, James Brown.”That would beat an Orioles-Royals game any day.Today James Brown is 70 years old. Reflecting on the life of Soul Brother No. 1, here is a little-known fact — he loved baseball as a young man growing up in Augusta, Ga., and had dreams of playing professionally. He was a teenager when Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier in 1947.Before he became the hardest-working man in show business — and he is still working, with a concert last night in South Florida — Brown thought he might be a baseball player.”I didn’t have a burning desire to be a professional musician,” he wrote in his autobiography. “People who knew me thought I was going to play baseball. I was a left-handed pitcher with a good fastball a sharp curve, and a wicked floater.”And one heck of a pickoff move to first, I’ll bet.(Now, if you are saying to yourself what the heck is he doing writing a column about James Brown in the sports section … Well, it’s his birthday, I like James Brown, and I couldn’t bring myself to seriously sit down and write a column about the Royals and the Orioles, even if both of them have surprising winning records. The Royals got a taste of the varsity this week in Boston, swept by the Red Sox in the three-game series. Wait until the Orioles get to the major league portion of their schedule. Would you rather I wrote about Sir Sidney Ponson, the Orioles’ starting pitcher today and Aruba’s newest knight? I’m surprised they didn’t have the ceremony at Hooters.)Mr. “Please Please Please” also had other athletic aspirations as well. He wanted to be a boxer, and by his accounts, he was a pretty good fighter, though he didn’t engage in typical boxing matches.He wrote about fighting in “battle royals,” where he would be blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back and in the ring with a group of fighters under the same conditions.”You swing at anything that moves, and whoever’s left standing at the end is the winner,” wrote Brown, who was a southpaw. “It sounds brutal, but a battle royal is really comedy. I’d be out there stumbling around, swinging wild and hearing the people laughing. I didn’t know I was being exploited; all I knew was that I was getting paid a dollar and having fun — I was too classy for battle royals, though, because I could really box.”Supposedly, a leg injury ended his athletic dreams, but I doubt that. Any man who could move on a stage like JB did for two- or three-hour shows could have lasted 15 rounds in the ring and certainly could have handled nine innings on the baseball field.But what would he have done with his cape?

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