Friday, October 09, 2009

pure escapism, is the charge some people have against those of us who like to go to a baseball stadium, and, though it didn't seem that way when I was lost, at tiger stadium those times, and then once when we went to cleveland; I had to talk them into letting me go to Cleveland, because unlike detroit, which was only an hour north, cleveland was maybe five hours east, much farther, and maybe my older brother didn't go that time, i don't remember. so there I am, about nine, lost, and fortunately, it was the early sixties, and some nice guy came along and helped me find the bus and get back home again. it was a few years before I went to another stadium, but the next one was forbes field in pittsburgh where I saw the greatest baseball player who ever lived, roberto clemente, who, as i've said before, could do everything, hit the long ball, steal a base, throw a guy out from the right field wall, and dig a ball out of the ivy while still running.

in the end I got to a lot of them; yankee stadium, where I saw a fight in the stands; fenway park, where i had to sneak in after the game was almost over; and finally in the midwest, several busch stadiums, wrigley field, comiskey park, kaufman stadium in kansas city, the twinkiedome, and, out west, i even got to see candlestick park once, although there again, i was way out in the outfield and didn't see much. At wrigley i was surprised to find, standing room only meant just that, and i stood the whole game, along with whoever went with me, and it might have been my kids, or someone who took my word for it that sro meant you would eventually get a seat somewhere. we didn't. and even there i kept my eye on the scoreboard, although the ivy, the classic outfield, the colors, were memorable. the game was not. the teams came and went, and it seemed, with so many national league towns, that it was mostly the giants who were always the enemy, although i know i've seen the mets in that role more than once. altogether I've seen more national than american, with a heavy weight favoring the pittsburgh games, with so many in forbes and even a few in three rivers, and another half dozen here in st. louis. In the days of forbes field the giants were memorable because they had mays, and mccovey, and marichal, and it seemed like they always put up a good fight, and people were tearing all over the field because nobody had any pitching, especially not the pirates. oh yes, they'd play the phillies, and the dogs, and whatever other team happened to pass through town, maybe the astros though mostly this was before the astros' time, not to mention the rockies. i say this to set up the play of all plays, which i saw one day in a game that was maybe 13-11, people running all over the bases, hits everywhere, people in the stands angry that the pirates manager hadn't taken out the pitcher yet. pirates' pitcher was getting hammered, and another guy hit it way out into the right-field gap where clemente as usual was chasing after it and not facing anyone, trying to dig it out of the right-field ivy-covered corner. when all of a sudden, he whirls around, and tosses a perfect strike line-drive throw, all the way to home, and catches the runner by a mile. Everyone who saw it was totally stunned. what a throw, the entire length of the field, in a game that probably didn't matter that much, i suppose, except that every game mattered, every moment, and it was, as I say, the play of all plays.

fast forward to a summer in ohio, when i get to take students to see the indians, and also my baby son, who had been born in korea but who actually got to see the Indians win, which probably brought tears to my eyes by itself. but there outside the stadium, the very same memorial stadium, by the lake, that had looked so huge to me at the age of 8, was a young lad, couldn't have been more than 8 himself, totally lost, and crying. so I was obviously put in that place to return someone's favor, and i did; i helped him find his bus. perhaps it was going back to Toledo, or some such place, where he was surely loved and would be missed. Escapism, people say about baseball. but it's more than that; i here, putting off a load of work that hurts, can easily say that; but i can also say, you genuinely see some interesting things, in the course of a number of games, you see humanity on parade, you see the ebb and flow of character, right there next to the smell of hot dogs, cigars, or in the case of comiskey, italian sausage. In the end, I suppose I didn't see all that much; it wasn't more than a few games a year. but luckily, i remembered a lot of it, and now, when the air is clear, and winter's coming, and the whole baseball thing gets dragged all the way into November, I can remember the good times, when it was all pretty much settled about now, and everyone was about ready to go home and call it a season.

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