Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

Did you know that baseball has a smell?

It doesn’t smell of one particular thing. It’s not just sweat, pine tar or unwashed uniforms. If Glade created a room freshener called “Opening Day,” you’d need essence of a well-worn mitt, old cleats encrusted with infield clay and the leathery aroma of the ball, itself. 

I’d buy cans of it and spray it all over the house.

The smell of baseball makes me remember a brownstone in Brooklyn, packed to the gills with baseball-nutty immigrants who grew to love (and become slightly obsessed with) the most American of pastimes.

It will be no surprise to learn that my family loved the Dodgers, named -- legend has it -- due to the fancy footwork necessary to “dodge” getting flattened by a trolley car in the busy borough we called home. But that was a bit before my time.

I was raised on the New York Mets.

My grandpa and uncle, often joined by my mother, grandma and a constant stream of aunts and  cousins, spent hours watching them and cursing them but, really, loving them in front of one of the first color TVs in the neighborhood. Housed in its own huge veneer cabinet -- complete with doily and candy dish filled with colorful, cellophane wrapped sour balls -- the lure of that green field and the blue sky above it, showcased on that convex screen, soon sang its  siren song. 

How I loved these guys--each so different but
so good!

It was from my very own spot on the carpet in front of the men in their easy chairs that I learned the rules, came to recognize the varied styles of the commentators, and, most significantly, connected baseball to an unequaled sensation of safety. 

Yes, Ump. I was safe.
Cocooned in a space where nothing could harm me more than the tickle of the popcorn my uncle might toss and then pretend he hadn’t, I spent many happy hours and, soon, I, too, genuinely loved the game.

And, specifically, I loved the aspect of baseball that many people criticize--the length and pace of those nine long innings. A baseball game has no time limit---it takes however long it damn well takes.

 Accept it, people.

But baseball isn’t slow, it’s measured. It doesn’t drag, it’s nuanced.

You said it, George.
Bursting with the constant possibility of excitement, we delighted in the suspense of an apparently lazy inning only to be catapulted from our languor by the sudden drama of a great play or thrilling hit.
Even Chewie plays.

Those moments, however rewarding, are second to the epic arguments about the faults, foibles and strengths of the players…the bonding over hatred of the umps (based on their most recent call)…and plotting Draconian revenge for heinous trades (Tom Seaver in 1977 is the perfect example. I still haven’t recovered). We fretted over injuries, memorized stats and, simply put, united over true affection for a home team

Play-offs and pennants were icing on the cake (or should I say “field”) but when the Mets won their first world series in 1969, it changed our lives in an almost biblical sense. David defeated Goliath that year and the following season I began to nag my mother to take me (I was eleven) on the two hour subway ride to Shea Stadium.

My first time there was so memorable that I remember exactly what I was wearing, that I stood on the final leg of the trip so to fully experience the elevated Number 7 swing into the curve of the holy ground of Flushing, New York and that we sat* next to a cheerful man who, when he bought his family ice cream, bought some for us, too.

I defy any artist to mix a more beautiful shade of green than the sunlit emerald of the outfield. Revealed after winding through Shea’s concrete tunnels, perfumed by the pungency of  absorbing years of spilled beer and wafting smoke from grilled Italian sausage, I remember gasping as I stepped forth on that first visit and, blinking in the sunshine, saw it in person for the first time.

Shea. I shall miss you forever.
I agree, Yogi.

Aware that my passion for the game is flagging (it's not so much fun watching alone), Tom and Charlie have encouraged me to rediscover my interest so, I’ve begun watching again. The ghosts of my grandpa and uncle stop by occasionally but, mostly, I’m by myself--eager to email the kids afterward about that great play, hit, save or infuriating error.

Can I recreate the magic of my youth? It’s doubtful but, surely, there is more magic to be made.

I still love it. And it must love me back because baseball still makes me feel good. Despite all its changes and new faces, a home run is still exciting, the umps are still blind and the grass is still that crazy green.

I can still smell it. Let’s see what the season holds…..

*For you Shea fanatics, we sat in the green seats on that first visit but in the sunshine, not under the dreaded over-hang.

Put him him the Hall of Fame!!!!!