I was taken aback the other day when my youngest, a baseball player, responded to a question about the World Series. The Houston Astros had just won the ultimate baseball prize, and in the process, gave their ravaged city something to center on, a respite in the city’s recovery process even if only for a few hours. He said, “Dad, no one talks about the World Series at school.”
In Canada you don skates as soon as you can walk steadily. In most of the world, it’s fútbol anywhere that resembles open space. In the US, it once was about the glove and the thrill of catch. I still recall the pure joy and the sound of the chase. Eyes wide open, sweat glistening, and the roar of speed in your ears as you tracked a sphere across the summer sky. The sweet feel of a well struck ball. The ambivalence of grass stains on your school clothes on the way home for dinner.
Baseball, to me, was more than a sport. It was a ritual unparalleled in diverse experiences. It was never boring dreaming of when the ball would be hit to you or imagining your next at bat. Baseball was always bigger and boundless whether on the field or chomping on the thing they called “gum” courtesy of your newest pack of baseball cards. Jaws aching, through the slurping, the roll emerged: “Got em, need em, got em, got em, need em…”
Over the next few posts, I will offer some baseball memories that are really, now, just pictures of a living….
It may seem odd that one of the brightest memories of my youth in New York City involves trees. Big trees, as I remember, in Bronx Park, a stark contrast to the towering brick buildings surrounding my concrete playground. On the occasions when my father announced this savored trip, I would run and get my glove and bat. No need to grab my baseball cap because it was always on my head.
Entering the park felt like plugging me into a circuit. My body quivered electric and I soaked up the view of the grassy open spaces which I imagined as Shea or Yankee Stadium. It all depended on who I was that day. One day I was Tom “Terrific” Seaver, another day Mickey Mantle.
The highlights unfolded when I stepped up to the plate, a sturdy deciduous catcher standing tall behind me to receive my Dad’s pitches. I would look out passed him to the high stone wall that separated the park from the city street. As a little guy of 6 or 7 years of age, that wall loomed as high as the Facade of old Yankee Stadium, and as deep as the monuments where Ruth, Gehrig, and Huggins awaited shots hit over 450 feet. I envisioned launching one out into the street and trotting around the bases.
It didn’t matter that the home run never happened. It didn’t matter that my hands rang painfully each time the baseball met my wooden bat. All that mattered was being in the box, taking hacks like a big-leaguer. And my father pitching.
The trips to the park stopped as my Dad took a new job and we moved out towards Yonkers. The child’s view is still in my head and I never saw the place as an adult. The memories roll, and my father is young, and he smiles when I make contact. The ball rolls out into the field towards the monuments and I imagine a young Mantle scooping it up, holding me to a single. The trees rise into the sky and hint of a world outside the city. The smell of grass is louder than the traffic on the street beyond the wall. The desire to touch the space of my heroes full enough to carry on to the next generation.