Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's baseball time!

We who are Baseball fans must seem like odd creatures to those who do not share the fever.  Growing up in Los Angeles, when that certain extra dab of warmth in the March air suddenly arrived--I did say March in Los Angeles--you could sense those who loved the game merely by the look in their eye.  Did I say “who loved the game?”  Pardon me, make that “those who felt the game.”  It was like creatures who react by instinct to certain environmental conditions.  I recall making that baseball fan eye-contact with my manager one March.  In two years working with him, that was the first real human connection we’d had beyond employee-supervisor. 

One of my first and best friends in Boston is a longtime baseball fan and lifetime Red Sox sufferer.  When he and I pass a baseball or softball diamond, we can’t help but look at it.  I don’t have to explain this to him.  He does not have to explain it to me.  We don’t need to say a word.  We understand.  More rational people are clueless about this behavior. 

As another Baseball season opens, the question is begged: What is it about this game?

My first September in Boston, I spent Labor Day Weekend in Newfound Lake near Plymouth, NH.  I met one of my contact person’s neighbors in the campground.  Let’s call him Tom.  Tom and I are standing by the lake in the dark trading baseball stories.  He tells me his experience from Bucky “Freakin’” Dent.  I tell him how I had to pull over on the freeway in LA after Jack Clark’s 9th inning home run for the Cardinals knocked my Dodgers out of the 1985 playoffs…and how I felt like slumping over the steering wheel.  Two hours casually dissipate, and it’s like this stranger and I are cousins. 

What is it about this game of Baseball?  Is it the combination of a park, the lure of summer, and the camaraderie of a team?  I got one of my best answers after doing a typically irrational baseball-fan thing.

When you get home from an airplane flight, you probably unpack, eat, and nap.  What did I do after returning from a west coast trip in April 2004?  Change clothes, hop the T to Kenmore Square, and get in line at Fenway Park for the Red Sox home opener--hoping against hope to buy a ticket.  Among the festive creatures and refuse in the street was a guy passing out postcards.  He turned out to be a playwrite named Brendon Bates.  Fenway Park’s future was still in doubt back then.  Brendon was bringing his play called “The Savior of Fenway” to Cambridge.

A month later I did a phone interview with Brendon.  At first, I felt a little silly asking him if there was a lot of “theatre” inherent in Baseball.  By the time the question came out of my mouth, it seemed an obvious point.  He agreed completely.  Brendon’s play won an award in New York and had a good run.  A play revolving around Red Sox fans in a bar in Quincy was embraced in New York.  ??  Funnier still, many people who loved the play said, “I’m not even a baseball fan.”  The main character in the play is pretty exhuberant in the first half of the play.  Throughout the second half, it’s clear his personal life is going through upheaval.  The tumult of the Red Sox-Yankees game in the play becomes a shadow to the emotional roller-coaster of this character’s reality.  Despite the trappings of the title, Baseball was just a vehicle.

Over the long haul of the season, Baseball is replete with the trappings of the travails of Life.  There are a number of Baseball-based books on that theme.  Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin grew up a baseball fan in New York.  As a girl, she was among those who dealt with the Dodgers taking their heart out of Brooklyn.  It connected to essential parts of her life.  It’s a part of her memoir, “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”  For thoughts of connecting to old friends who were like your second family, there is David Halberstam’s “The Teammates”  This covers the journey from Massachusetts to Florida of Dom Dimaggio and Johnny Pesky, to visit Ted Williams when Williams was dying.  Along with Bobby Doerr, who could not make the trip in person, the four were very close going back 60 years.  How about mixing Baseball with international intrigue?  Learn about former Red Sox catcher Mo Berg in “The Catcher Was A Spy” by Nicholas Dawidoff.

The promise of summer, the camaraderie of friendship, the connection to social history back to the 1800’s, and even simply—as WP Kinsella wrote—the thrill of the grass.  Wrap them up together and you’ve got a special brew that goes beyond the game itself. 

Throw out the first pitch on the regular season.  It’s BASEBALL TIME!!  

Friday, April 13th will be the 100th Home Opener at Fenway Park (come on, having the 100th on Friday the 13th doesn’t scare us after the 86 years we went through).  This morning I played songs about Moe Berg--the Red Sox catcher who was a CIA spy during World War II--shortstop Ozzie Smith, and all the generations of fathers and sons (and daughters) who have played catch with each other.  Share your Fenway Park stories with us and ideas for other baseball songs to mark the occasion.  Thanks for reading this…and thanks for supporting WUMB!   

-        Perry Persoff   

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