Monday, April 02, 2012


This week is opening week for Major League Baseball, and it can't come soon enough for me. There is always a curious emptiness in my life from November to March every year which begins shortly after the World Series and continues until Spring Training, interrupted only by the transient joys of Christmas.

No other sport has that effect on me. I like Soccer and Football. Don't care much for Basketball; can enjoy Tennis and Rugby. But baseball....ahhhhh baseball! It does something for my soul and expands my universe in a way that no other sport has ever come close to doing.

So, when my daughter sent me this article, I just had to write about it:
This is what baseball can do to the soul: it has the ability to make you believe in spite of all other available evidence. My son, John Michael, is 10 years old. We are in the bleachers. He leans in to me and says that the pitch is going to come in high and fat. It’s still a new language to me. The pitch is thrown, and indeed it does — it comes in high and fat, and 94 miles per hour. A-Rod leans into it like he’s about to fell a tree and smacks the ball and it soars, that little sphere of cowhide rising up over the Bronx, and it is a moment unlike any other, when you sit with your son in the ballpark, and the ball is high in the air, you feel yourself aware of everything, the night, the neon, the very American-ness of the moment.

And then it strikes you that the ball has an endless quality of fatherhood to it.

Now, part of my fascination with the game has to do with my father and his father, both of whom were passionate Yankee fans (I grew up in New Jersey). My father was himself, a professional baseball player; having played in my early years in the minor leagues-- except for one glorious summer in 1941 when he was called up to the Show as a relief pitcher for the then Washington Senators.

He used to tell my brother and I stories about it all the time. The way he pitched to Joe DiMaggio, who hit a home run off him; then caught up with him after the game and told him how he was signaling his pitches by his foot position on the mound. This high moment in his life occurred long before either my brother or I was born; and shortly afterwards, my father went and joined the Marines because of Pearl Harbor.

During the War he proudly took his baseball mitt with him everywhere he was stationed. I've seen pictures of him on Iwo Jima playing catch after he was wounded in action. He played baseball with anyone he could find in those days; and after the War, went on to manage and play on a minor league team in NJ (along with two of his brothers). That's when I first was introduced to the game at about the age of two.

Being the oldest, I was my father's initial hope for future baseball fame. I don't think he noticed that I was a girl for many years, so he taught me all he knew. And I was a willing pupil.

My brothers came along, but I was better than they were at the game (they will, of course, dispute this :-) ) and it was only when we were old enough for organized sports like Little League, Pony League etc that I was no longer allowed to play (girls didn't in those days). So, I found ways to stay in the sport, warming up the pitchers; announcing the games and being official scorekeeper--even got a job in my teens writing articles about the school games for the local newspaper.

There is no doubt in my mind that if I had been born male I would have tried to become a professional ball player or coach.

As it was, my brothers were both talented in sports, but wasted themselves on football in high school and ended up with injuries that endend their baseball dreams.

I got interested in Medicine and ended up a physician, initially planning on becoming a surgeon; then discovering that I had a talent for psychiatry.

But my love for the game never left me.

I find the sights and smells and sounds of a ballpark on a summer day to be the most soothing experience imaginable. The ebbs and flows of the game are comforting and yet exciting. The joy of your team coming from behind; or your favorite players doing well. The glory of winning the pennant and even the anguish of losing it.

Baseball has the rhythm of life--not too fast; not too slow but smooth and flowing.

I never meant to fall in love with baseball, but I did. I learned to realize that it does what all good sports should do: it creates the possibility of joy.

Sometimes, when walking home from the subway, after being at Yankee Stadium, I have the feeling that a whole country has been knocked around inside me. I am Irish, but I am also American. I am both father and son.

I cherish these moments. It confirms that life is not static. There is so much more left to be lived.

I am Italian, but I am also American. I passed my love of the game and the Yankees on to my daughter. We enjoy watching the game together on TV. It is my secret delight--coming home every day and watching the Yankees on TV. Incorporating the rhythm of the game into my own currently hectic life.

Maybe once or twice a year I actually manage to a real game when the Yanks are nearby--or, splurge on a trip to New York just to see them over a weekend.

When I can't see my team, I enjoy almost any baseball that's readily available on TV (though I can't abide the Red Sox for some reason!). The minor league team here in town is quite good, and I'll even journey up to San Francisco to see the Giants play sometimes with my brother who has access through his work to season tickets.

For me, there's just something about this game that soothes the soul and makes life just a little bit brighter, more joyful and filled with hope for the future.

Terence Mann: Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. - Field of Dreams


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