What is it about watching a ball game that seems to bring so many emotions to the surface? So much love, passion, disappointment, hopefulness. There is something electric about the ball and the bat making contact. CRACK! (…or PING! as the case may be). Something nostalgic about all of that bubble gum and sunflower seeds. Something timeless when fans wear their rally caps.
I am a latent baseball fan. I never watched baseball as a kid, played in gym class only once in a great while and did not marry my high-school crush who loves the game. (He later became my brother in law.) So my feelings are somewhat shocking. And I wonder if they can be real, or if you can only truly be affected by baseball if you never “grew up with it.”
My true love for the game came after seeing the Baseball exhibit at the Field Museum in the spring of 2003. What I thought was a history field trip for my boys turned out to be the flip of a switch that drew me in. That summer after moving to Madison my love continued to grow…I bought score sheets and read all kinds of books for novices like me. The book that was most influential was Wait Till Next Year by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. After reading that I knew I wanted baseball to be a part of my life and the life of my family.
Some earlier seeds had been planted. (Like any conversion, my devotion to baseball was not the result of a single encounter.) Andy and I lived in the Bridgeport neighborhood a mile from Comiskey Park when Alex and Joseph were babies. We had a tradition of eating at O’Malley’s on the first day of spring and took in a few White Sox games with a babies in carriers. Joseph was drawn to baseball so I began watching the World Series, honestly knowing nothing about the game. When Joseph and Alex were two they used to run around our apartment swinging cardboard tubes saying SOSA! I thought it was kind of cool when a friend said that he and his brother had a tradition of visiting a different ball park on each opening day. And when we moved back to the North Side I started to make caramel corn during the World Series. So perhaps I have been a fan longer than I thought. I just didn’t know it was for me.
There have been some timeless memories for me even though I have been a fan for such a short time.
In the fall of 2003 we did not have TV so we listened to Cubs games on the radio. I am sure this added a romantic element to the game. But we did not miss a playoff game, we were glued to each play, the boys and I. The Cubs had a chance to break the curse and reach the World Series for the first time since 1945! Joseph pretended to score the game, but Alex actually followed each play. And then there was that fan. You know–the one who caught the ball away from Moises Alou, the one who had to be escorted out of the park…. Our Cubbies lost and our Alex burst out in tears, “Now the Cubs will never win a World Series!”
Joseph’s first day of coach-pitch baseball had him up at 5:30 a.m. when his practice started at 10:00!
And what about the Madison Mallards winning the championship game, all three of our boys getting balls when we entered the park, and the extra we got because one of us was wearing a Cubs hat. Oh, and don’t the Mallards always win when we see their games? 😉
Of course I will never forget watching with bated breath each game of the 2005 playoffs seeing my team the White Sox make it to the Series. And then hoping for a sweep so that a game would be over before our upcoming move…okay I need to be a little practical here. But all of us were thrilled to party with the White Sox. Another victory added to my love of the game.
I think what stirs my soul about baseball is its total engagement of community. It is a sport that can engage the 5 year old in t-ball or the college guy playing for an amateur team, or Grandma in the stands introducing the game to her grandchildren. I get excited about the history, the community of players past, and being a part of something that has so many connections.
Last Thursday, Jospeh’s struggling Little league team, Mary’s Trucking was playing yet another game in the cold. (Blankets have become permanent in the van.) Gwenna was intently watching the game and freezing at the same time. Naomi was at the park with Alex and Charles. I was chatting with other parents. Honestly, trying not to get bored….as the BOLD, yellow team brought in another run…but then Mary’s Trucking started to play some ball. The boys put on the rally caps. Runs were being batted in and the fielding started to look like we had a team on the field. It was the last inning, the girls were blue so I took them to the car…only to see Joseph get up to bat just as we got there. I could not hear the PING but I knew it was there because Joseph made it to first base. Then he stole second. Another batter came to bat…another PING and I saw Joseph round home plate. WHOO HOOO! What I did not realize became clear just minutes later, as Alex, Joseph and Charles ran across the field chanting “Joseph won the game, Joseph won the game” Joseph still had his rally cap on, all three boys were ecstatic; I could hardly contain myself. I was so proud. Once again I was completely undone by a baseball game!