The excitements of spring part 2: beisbol!

The season officially starts with a game on Sunday, and I’ve already got 3 fantasy teams set. Yes, I’m a goon for baseball: it means that the hazy pollen cloud of Spring is passing and that glorious summer (associated with things like school vacation, my birthday, and ice cream eaten under starlight) is upon us. Even though summer no longer means endless sloth (unless that’s a code for heat exhaustion), it’s still an exciting time. Every night of summer, after dinner, there was baseball: spend the day running around the yard pretending to be Carl Yastrzemski, swinging for the bleechers that were really just a row of pine trees, and then wating Yaz with my grandparents. Reading box scores before going to high school in the morning. Grading exams in graduate school during the playoffs.

Baseball doesn’t have the non-stop action of basketball, or the gladiator appeal of American football. It has careful strategy and a pace that allows for thought. Cricket fans tell me that part of their enjoyment comes from the fact the matches are so long that you can relax and have a drink and talk to friends. This is baseball too: the thrilling moments are punctuated with langorous pauses. There is a narrative, there is history. The stories behind the game add to its richness: as a kid I absorbed the poetry of Phil Rizzuto, whose stories of old players and his own mishaps were punctuated with updates on what happened of the field. Here’s a sample:

The Bridge

Two balls and a strike.
You know what they had on TV today, White?
Bridge on the River Kwai
Everybody should have gotten an Academy Award for
that movie.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it.
About forty times.
Alec Guinness!
William Holden!
Three and one the count.
I just heard somebody whistle.
You know that song?
That’s what they whistle.
Nobody out.
And he pops it up.

–May 5, 1987
New York at Chicago
Joe Niekro pitching to Carlton Fisk
Second inning, no outs, bases empty
No score

The dear Scooter has retired, but Yongi and I have found a new favorite. He’s a charming legend who worked a borough over from Rizzuto when the Scooter was still rounding the basepaths with a wad of gum on his helmet, back when the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn (i.e. before 1957). Vin Scully could singlehandedly convert a person to loving the sport with his skill. He’ll quote Shakespeare and gush over a cute baby in the stands in the same inning that he explains how a particular shortstop’s movements remind him of one of the great players of the day. He works alone in the booth, unlike other announcers who pair up to keep the conversation moving. It’s an odd thing to say about someone whose job it is to talk, but the thing Vin does best is to be quiet. When there’s dramatic tension in a critical moment, Vin stops talking. He lets the sounds of the game fill your ears, the roar of the crowd after a home run, or more famously, a perfect game. Scroll down for the Sandy Koufax transcript and read it. You’ll get goosebumps. 38 seconds of the crowd cheering! There’s no hooting or raving about how great something was, he knows you saw it the same as him–even though it was on the radio, you can see every detail in your mind.

I know that baseball has faced trouble in recent years with the steroid problems, labor issues and primadonnas, but it retains an ability to captivate and bring wonder into a summer evening like few other things. If you’re not convinced, I’ll just eat your share of the cracker jack.

  1. #1 by Jennifer on April 1, 2006 - 4:15 pm

    We have the Durham Bulls down the street. Not quite the “show”, but almost; youngish players still chasing a dream and a little white ball. The crowds are small, but enthusiastic. The boys of summer are approachable and sweet. (Mostly). The hot dogs are fabunasty and the beer is ice cold. That’s the baseball I love. That and perching my lawn chair at the edge of the local Little League field. The big boys? They lost me forever ago. Which is sad.

  2. #2 by patita on April 1, 2006 - 9:45 pm

    I can understand that, and my hats off for supporting the local team. I didn’t go to a major league game until I was nearly 30–it was always minor league, single A or double A. We’ve got the Round Rock Express very close that we get to a few times a season, and hope to make a special trip to Corpus Christi to see their new double A team (how can you not love a team that has Rusty the Hook as a mascot?!).

  3. #3 by guyana-gyal on April 6, 2006 - 11:09 am

    The best baseball quote I ever hear was, “The Ankees striped out.”

    My little nephew [in America] telling his mum.

    Okay, I’m biased, I know.

  4. #4 by patita on April 6, 2006 - 1:26 pm

    nope, that’s adorable by any standard of measure!

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