Lessons from baseball?

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, May 29, 2016

Aside from hearing the cheers from the old Seattle Sicks Stadium (where Jimi Hendrix played in 1970) down the road a mile from the house I grew up in, I’ve only ever rubbed up against baseball a few times in my life. It just has not been part of the curriculum.

My dad was a football and tennis player. One brother was a runner. The other was a brain. My sister lettered in boys. I was not allowed to do sports on account of their toll on academics, so any knowledge of baseball for me was strictly anecdotal, academic or from television.

It’s 1981 in New York. I reconnect with one of my oldest friends in the world, and he invites me to a Yankees game, complete with press passes. I never understand how this particular friend, an actor, wrangles things, but he always does. I am excited to be drinking a free beer as tall as my head and the afternoon passes by in a pleasant, sunburn-y blur, the sound of fans cheering and bats cracking in the background. So this is baseball, I think to myself. Nice!

Because I’m not really a drinker, I manage to get on a #6 express train going the wrong way, deep into the Bronx. I slump onto a bench not noticing much until someone with a bike gets on the train, urgently points out my mistake, and tells me to get off at the next stop and find some NYPD blue to escort me to the other side and onto the right train. Which, sobering up quickly, I do.  Baseball game #1, lesson learned: Drinking and not driving don’t necessarily mix, either.

Fast forward 20 years, to 2001, back in Seattle now and buying tickets for a Mariners game. Along with the rest of humanity, it seems, we take public transportation down to Safeco Field. We think we are arriving in good time, but as we wend our way up to the Everest-level nosebleed section and are about to pop through the door-hole, there is not a single sound to be heard. It is utterly, eerily quiet: somehow we have arrived dead last, the stadium full to the brim and the first pitch about to be thrown that very second.

Celine, 8, who has never seen 40,000 people gathered before, stands frozen, and we have to drag her to the seats, explaining, as if to an alien, how baseball works. I note the differences 20 years have made. A big screen. The wave. Salmon burgers instead of hot dogs. Baseball game #3 (or so), lesson learned: It’s fun occasionally to blow a child’s mind, especially inadvertently.

Recently, we find ourselves driving past Coors Field in Denver and on a whim walk down and buy cheap tickets from someone hocking them right outside the gate. The seats are really low and right behind home plate, and we get ready for a walk down memory lane.  Aside from the fact that it’s a terrible game (hence the great seats), we find the Jumbotron overwhelming, with its contests and advertisements and the cameraman’s relentless crowd scanning. In the purple and black fanscape, the one food I notice a lot of is nachos. Pumped cheese and corn chips. Oh, and gigantic sodas, even for little kids (what are they doing here on a school night, anyway?).

Stop being so critical, I tell myself. Stop being so old school and enjoy this scene as if it were a fascinating movie about people who seem normal but already live in a science-fiction future where men with beards and knickers are worshipped for their prowess with a cowskin-covered orb and a stick.

There are a lot of foul balls. The most exciting thing by far about this baseball game is imagining catching one of these right out of the sky, like the lucky stiff who actually does to the right a couple sections. Baseball game #5 (or so), lesson learned: Pay attention to what is actually exciting you.

From Buzzfeed (a popular social news website) I learn that in the pantheon of baseball fan archetypes, I am The Completely Clueless Fan, the one who understands 14 percent of the rules, whose motto is “Why did he do that?” Yes. And, for me, the takeaway is always something completely unrelated to the actual game. But there is this one thing I really, really, like.

I like it when the super successfully thwacked up ball snaps every single person to attention — when, in the same breath-held moment of anticipation, they are captives of the present moment, in a state of suspended animation, jaws slack, eyes riveted, poised. As if anything could happen. Obviously, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, if you’re a baseball fan. But for a clueless one, not bad, right?

 

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