I’ve always loved baseball. I suspect it’s because the sound of a radio broadcaster’s voice may have been part of my consciousness since before birth. Mom loved baseball too. She was a bigger fan than my dad was, could tell you who was on the disabled list, who was a rookie, who had a batting slump and she loved the (then) St. Louis Cardinals. When I first met my husband, the fact that he was a partner in San Francisco Giants season tickets was definitely a plus. It’s nice when your sweetie wants to take you to their idea of a fun time and it happens to be your idea of a fun time, too.
I don’t think anyone had invented T-Ball when I was little, so my brother and I were brought up on the real thing. I liked to play. I liked to watch. I liked to get dressed up and watch. Florida being the winter home to several teams, was baseball country. I remember going to my first off-season major league game with my dad and my brother. The Pittsburgh Pirates played. I don’t know why my mom didn’t come, but it was probably because it wasn’t a Cardinals game. Mom was a purist. I don’t remember the score, but I remember that I wore what I thought of as a rather elegant spaghetti-strap sundress. I screamed passionately at the players, coaches and umpires, a sort of grade school version of Bull Durham’s leading lady, with firm belief that my opinion was not only necessary but perhaps the very key to the outcome of the game. Baseball can make you feel that way.
My brother played Little League and we were the Lions, our colors gold and white. My brother wore a cool uniform and he looked like a Normal Rockwell character with his untamable hair shot out from under his cap tilted back and his wide blue eyes and freckles. Naturally, I wanted a cool uniform, too, so Mom made me a Lions cheerleader outfit, a gold skirt and gold bolero over my white Peter Pan collar blouse. And I fell in love, from afar of course, with a kid named Rusty who was the pitcher. While my crush was complete, Rusty was nobly focused on the game and paid no attention to me whatever. It was part of his charm.
Not only was my brother in Little League, but my dad was one of the umpires. Umpires can look and sound like Darth Vader before there was ever a Star Wars. And my dad was scrupulously fair in his calls, inspiring both my pride and annoyance. When the crowd disagreed with cries of, “Kill the umpire,” I howled, “No! That’s my Daddy!” My mother, the introvert, smirked in amusement, perhaps entertaining the thought.
When we moved to New Mexico, we still loved baseball, but the teams were much farther away. The University was on break the first August we lived there and just about everyone we knew had left town for vacation. Bored, as only lively 6th and 7th graders could be, my brother and I convinced our dad to go to the local park and play ball even though there were just three of us. Dad agreed and we were soon set up for our Big Game.
As it turns out, the Big Game was Daddy, but we didn’t know that at first. My brother, steely-eyed as ever, had to bat first and he wanted a real pitch to swing at, so Daddy was the pitcher and I was, well, I was the rest of the infield and all of the outfield. First pitch and my brother hit a line drive straight at Daddy’s chin. We picked him up, inspected the interesting stitch-mark pattern the ball had made on his chin, made him tell us how many fingers we had, dusted him off and resumed our places. Second pitch, my brother hit a high pop-fly straight out to me. I lost the ball in the sun and it landed on top of my foot. I fell over like the Laugh-In tricycle. They both came out to me, picked me up, helped me walk it off and we resumed our places. Third pitch, my brother hit another line drive straight at Daddy that took the top off his right ear. With bloodshed on the pitcher’s mound, we all decided the game was over and we took Daddy home.
Later, my brother played baseball for the 13-15 year-old set and our colors were green and white. We were the Hatch’s Packers and Daddy was the coach, apparently a safer position than umpire or practice pitcher. Our sponsor was Hatch’s Packing Company, south of town, now famous for chili. But in our house, Hatch’s was famous for “poison meat,” which in the family patois meant filet mignon. Part of Hatch’s generous sponsorship was a steady supply of steaks. We had filet mignon so many times the two years we had the team that we actually grew tired of it. I am still not sure how that happened.
I was allowed to sit in the dugout and keep the scorebook sometimes, which meant I was surrounded by some of my town’s most eligible young swains. This of course was my ulterior motive, but I also loved baseball. I created a Charles Schulz Peanuts-like cartoon portrait of the team, complete with our diminutive first baseman depicted as a ball cap, a thatch of blond hair and big sneakers. Mom came to the games but sat in her car on the third base line so she could honk the car horn when our team made a good play.
Truth be told, Mom had her own “girlhood” crush in later years and naturally it would be a baseball player. None other than George Brett had caught her eye. I assessed her choice and found it pleasing. “Now, that,” she would nod at the television, “is a man.” Mmm, mmm, yes, indeedy!
Out on my own and living in Illinois, I took advantage of opportunities to see the St Louis Cardinals play and also the Chicago Cubs. My home was about the same distance to each city. I treated my brother to a Cardinals game where we watched Ozzie Smith doing back flips in the outfield in the sweltering heat. I determined that I loved the Cubs for Wrigley Field, a civilized and intimate ballpark, where on a summer’s day the only cool breeze in the entire state of Illinois blew in from Lake Michigan, worth the price of admission. I loved the Cubs because of Ryne Sandberg’s long, long legs and Mark Grace’s consistent bat. And I loved the Cubs because they just couldn’t win. It was a test of character to be a Cubs fan. I passed.
I think that embodied what I love about baseball, that people love it for love of the game, for its nobility, manners, statistics, fans, legends, striving, anguish, loyalty and joy. As in the 5 of Wands, competition is not an ugly word but the embodiment of zest for life, of testing progress, agility, energy and endurance. It is the striving for that personal best and the enjoyment of watching your favorites do the same. It is the handshake for both the winners and losers at the end of a game. It is the reverence for both the Star Spangled Banner and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It is wearing a glove in the stands. It is the favorite ball cap covered with years of Opening Day at the Ballpark pins. It is the hint of the fable my husband told his nephews when they were small, that he had been called in to pitch the last pitch of the last game by Vida Blue himself, and won; sadly, this “fact” had been omitted in the record books. It is standing with our friend William and his teenage son both of whom have attended Giants Opening Day games since his son was an infant.
And even if the score was Cubs 8 Giants 6, what a game! What a game! How dreadful that Lincecum had a bad night! Did you see that play Aubrey Huff made? Did you watch how Pat Burrell while at bat helped coach the runner on third with gestures a father might give to a son, teaching, coaching, and encouraging? Did you see that last hit from Sandoval? Come on, guys! There’s still a chance at the Wild Card!
Yup, I’ve always loved baseball. Go Giants!