Thursday, October 24, 2013

Past Time/Pastime


If these blog posts were a movie, in this sentence, we would be cross cutting to the present moment, which is October 24.  Just for a bit, we are leaving behind the trip I have been reporting on, more or less chronologically.  In that reportage, we are only up to September 9.  Right now Waller Grant is living in the middle of our twelfth week on the road, located in a KOA Campground south of Boston. In writing, I am only up to week six, upstate New York.  This gap of living and re-living is widening everyday.  It tints my experience of both.  There are always the needs of the Caravan and the plain fact that it is moving on, inevitably, and there is always the desire to capture the caravan in words, thoughtfully.  There is always the lure, the pull of the new, the unexperienced, the fresh.  And there is the opposite pull, the taut rope of reflection, asking, begging to be remembered, respected, and commemorated.  This day, Knightsmama has taken the boys to Cape Cod, and I have remained in the Caravan in Middleboro. It’s a chilly but sunny day.  Yesterday was overcast with occasional sprinkles and was spent in a National Tire and Batterstore, repairing ball joints and outfitting the truck with brand new tires.  Tomorrow, it’s Boston again.  In a couple of days, we’re off to Rhode Island for a spell, then to the Hudson River Valley.  The caravan is always moving on; and we are always seeing, experiencing something new.  Today, I am hibernating, hiding out.  Sure, I have a project:  one of the kitchenette booths is a little shaky and needs repair.  Mostly, I want to narrow the gap between the past and present.  Drive the caravan of the past closer to the caravan of the present.

The Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York
Last night, after six hours in the NTB and environs—during which Knightsmama worked on her distant learning courses and I paged my way through On the Road—I scrapped plans to hit a sports bar and just stayed in the monster.  Last night was the first game of the World Series:  Boston versus St. Louis.  Growing up, baseball was the family sport.  My father had played semi-pro ball in the thirties. All his life he regularly attended major league and minor league games whenever he could.   I played Little League as a kid in Birmingham, Alabama, and Temple, Texas. I wasn’t bad.  I even made an All-Star team.  I played on a team in Temple that won third place in the state tournament.  I was outfielder for the Temple DeMolay team that won first place at the state convocation.  And until my knees grew old, I enjoyed city league softball.  There was a time when I could quote statistics from Ty Cobb to Lou Brock.  My favorite teams?  Although I have had brief flirtations with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Cardinals have always been my team, as it was my dad’s team.  For all those reasons, in spite of the price, in August I bought a ticket to a Cardinal game when we were bivouacked there. 
So last night, Knightsmama retreated to the bedroom for more study, and the boys and I watched  game one of the 2013 World Series.  I enjoyed a couple of Mayflower Brewing beers, savored a baloney sandwich, and wept as my cardinals got whipped soundly.  The Cards played terribly, three errors, while Jon Lester was dominating.  My sons, of course, rooted for the home team, Boston.  Captain Crunch stayed up with me to the bitter end, while Dr. J. had the good sense to go to bed and not to rub his victory into dad’s wounds.  Tonight we will see if the Cards can put the past behind them and play with vigor and skill. 
That is the present:  a father and his sons watching a ball game on a Wednesday night.  Back home in Texas, in our usual day to day, baseball falls into the background. We don’t subscribe to cable television, and if we did, I usually don’t have the leisure or interest to watch an entire game.  The boys did not have the patience for the pace of  a kid’s pitch game.  Basketball is their sport; after all Dr. J. is 6 feet 5 inches coming up to his sixteenth birthday.  Captain Crunch follows whatever big brother does.  He will be shorter than Dr. J.,  but point guard might not be out of the question.  Still, on many occasions on this road trip, the boys have pulled out the gloves and tossed the ball around when there has been an open space and down time.  Dad sometimes joins them.  The arm is not what it used to be.  Dr. J. laughs when I  has to jump for a high one.  Dr. J. has speed, and I wonder if he could be a tall pitcher like Wainwright.  But Captain Crunch amazed me the other night playing catch with his Uncle Erich, who visited us from Brookline.  The Captain was nabbing some pretty fast throws from a good distance. 
And all this returns us to September 9.  After we left Seneca Falls (see the previous post), Knightsmama found us a lovely campground, along Lake Glimmerglass, just north of Cooperstown.  It was unusual for us, but we arrived close to dusk.  The rangers had left a cryptic note about which spots were open, but we deciphered the code, backed the monster in and got everything settled before dark set in solidly.  I’ll say it rained that night.  I swear it did, but I have one ounce of doubt—that’s the problem about writing about past events from memory.
The next morning, Kinghtsmama and I moseyed into Cooperstown and found a coffee shop for a short cup of WiFi.  Then I was dropped off at the doorstep to Baseball Mecca, The Baseball Hall of Fame.  We had decided that, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Baseball Hall of Fame could not hold the interest of mom and the boys and that I should not be forced to hurry or worry about them.  For them, it was not worth the cost and for me it was not worth the worry for them to accompany me.  I was left to experience the cathedral by myself, except, of course, I was not by myself.  My father and mother walked with me the entire way, joined occasionally by my sisters and coaches and best buds with whom I had played ball.

The Musial Locker
My ardent love of the game waned somewhere in the middle eighties, when I was in my thirties.  A lot of things in my life changed then as I figured I had to let much of my past remain in the past if I were to become who I could be in the future.  So my baseball heroes end with George Brett.  Rod Carew, Steve Carleton, Paul Molitor, and that era. I think we ought to scratch out steroid players from the record books.  So when I stopped at the displays at the Hall of Fame, I stood with my father and his heroes, who at the time were mine:  Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, Enos Slaughter, Lefty Gomez, Joe Medwick, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and his favorite and therefore mine, Stan Musial.  Then there were those who peopled my imagination, and I am not sure how my father felt about them:  Satchel Page, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Lou Brock,  Brooks Robinson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Joe Morgan.
So much has been written about baseball and its connections to the United States and the “American Way of Life.”   At its core, it is a very simple game, with simple skills:  run, hit, throw.  It is a team sport, but one that operates on a series of one-on-one contests.  First, the pitcher and hitter compete against each other.  Then if the ball is hit, the contest is between hitter and fielder.  If the fielder does not catch the ball on the fly, the contest is between fielder/thrower and runner.  You don’t have to be a giant in height or weight to play competitively as in basketball or football.  The average player is somewhat the average guy:  six foot tall at 190 pounds or thereabouts. 
And maybe I am totally deluded and living is some kind of fantasy, maybe I am a sentimentalist, maybe an elitist, but I like the game because I think it is one played by gentlemen.  Football is a game of violent domination, based on warfare.  Basketball is a game for virtuosos, with staggering skills of body and ball control.  The nature of these games requires attitudes and behaviors that are overtly aggressive, self-indulgent, and self-aggrandizing.  I know each of these sports include what we might call “class acts,” but baseball reflects the values that I was raised to honor. 

Satchel Page
This is sort of what I thought about as I wondered the exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I looked at lots of photographs, baseballs, bats, uniforms, and mock lockers; I studied the changes in baseball stadium design and the return to tradition in such stadiums as the Ballpark in Arlington; I read about the African American baseball leagues and celebrated Satchel Page, Jackie Robinson, and Bucky O’Neil; I watched Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First” routine. Then feeling full, and shall we say, a bit overloaded with my secular education, I stepped into the gallery with the plaques of all the Hall of Famers.  It was as if I stepped out of a museum into a church. 
There I strolled and sat, and sat and strolled.  I watched the other gray men, like me, except nobody else had long hair and a beard, all of us reliving some bit of the past, I suppose.  I felt like a kid in there, not a creaky adult.  I looked at the other men and thought they were my father’s age, except, of course, my father would be 102 if he were living.  At sixty, I might have been on the low side of the average, but not by much.  My father could have been the father to most of the men there.  With a little distance, I can now think they all felt like boys in there.  No one had seen Cobb or Ruth or Gehrig play.  Maybe somebody had seen DiMaggio or Jackie Robinson.  I don’t remember if I ever saw Ted Williams or Micky Mantle or Hank Aaron play in person.  I did see Musial, Mays, Clemente, Mazerowski, Gibson, Spahn, Brock, Hunter, Jackson, Killebrew, Morgan, Fingers, and Molitor.  Most of the others, I had watched on television.  I read the plaques and I saw them all playing again, and I pondered their lives playing a little boy’s game with such a regular display of skill. 
It’s silly, of course.  Baseball is just a game. Nothing in the world is saved by it.  Detroit has a wonderful team and the city is still asking to go bankrupt.  Curt Schilling can play, heroically, with an injured ankle and defeat the Yankees in the playoffs and then pitch again against the Cardinals in the World Series.  Almost certainly he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but these days he is declaring bankruptcy due to the collapse of the gaming company he founded. 
But baseball is also a live drama in which individuals do amazing things quickly and efficiently:  like the last night, the lone home run by Matt Holliday in 9th inning.  It had no affect on the game, but it was huge blast over the green monster.  Or Beltran’s catch, body slamming into the right field fence at Fenway, arm stretched over the wall robbing Ortiz of a grand slam.  And then Ortiz a few innings later hitting another long ball, this one safely over the fence.  And don’t forget, Lester’s seven and two thirds innings, no runs, and 8 strike outs, a great performance.    

Ted Williams at Fenway Park
         Is this America’s pastime?  I don’t know.  I guess it was for the first fifty or seventy years of the twentieth century.  Maybe it still is.  For me, it is simply the game that my father taught me to play.  When I walk into a stadium and look at the field stretched out far and wide in the outfields and funneling beautifully to the batter, catcher, umpire, I sit with my parents, my sisters and nieces and nephews who still go to games.  And I sit with the ghosts of all the players I have admired.  That’s the thing about baseball, the past is always present.  The Cardinals have been a National League team since 1892.  The Boston Red Socks have been in the American League since 1901.  Tonight, in Game Two, Musial will be standing, a ghost somewhere on the field, as will Rogers Hornsby, and Bob Gibson, as will Ted Williams and Carl Yastremski, and Carlton Fisk. I’ll be watching.  Perhaps in Heaven, they have cable and my dad will be watching, too.  
        But most of all, I am hoping the Cardinals can put last night behind them, and, tonight, win.


Soundtrack:  John Fogerty:  "Centerfield."

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