Those of us who grew up in major league cities (regardless of the sport) are somewhat blasé about that good fortune. The ability to just go and see the team play, more or less at will, without having to plan a trip to do so, provides the stimulus to also connect with the regular radio or television broadcasts that “fill in” the time between visits to the stands. It’s not, of course, that minor league, semi-pro or even teams for youth can’t do that in terms of going to see the game, but it’s the major league teams that get the columnists offering opinion, the reporters providing coverage, the regular place in the sports pages so that game reports can be perused, and so a sense of “being there” evolves such that every game becomes a part of the fabric of one’s life. Indeed, after a while, even the games where you were not there, where you didn’t hear a broadcast, and have only the box score to count upon start to form up an image in your mind, so that, in that sense, you were there just as any other day…
I had been a baseball fan, first getting hooked on the game in the last season of the old Toronto Maple Leafs (AAA club, affiliated in that last season with the Red Sox organization) playing down by the lakeshore in the old Maple Leaf Stadium. I was playing baseball — extremely poorly — myself at the time. We went a decade without professional ball, and then the Blue Jays franchise was admitted to the American League, and from the first Opening Day (in the snow) I was hooked. I went from being a television and radio fan with occasional trips to Exhibition Stadium, to a shared season’s ticket holder when the SkyDome opened. A fan as with many others, I suppose, but I enjoyed the game even more than the winning and losing toward the end.
One of my most favourite memories, actually, is of game six of the 1993 World Series. We were in France; my father-in-law phoned us there, very early in the morning, to tell us of Carter’s home run giving the Blue Jays their second Series win in a row. He was not the fan, but he knew I was, and that it would be another full day before the International Herald Tribune would have the final box score. Quite the gift, and right up there with the silence that lasted for what seemed an eternity when, in game seven the preceding year, Jimmy Key got the final out in the thirteenth inning to win the Series: you could hear a pin drop, and then the doors started opening. At nearly 1.00 am people went outside so as not to disturb their sleeping family members, and then the whoops of delight began.
1994, of course, was the year of the labour shutdown when the owners decided come hell or high water baseball would be returned to its nineteenth century ideas at any cost. We were moving at just about that time, disrupting my attendance (it’s hard to get to games when you end up in Connecticut). Between the move and the loss of the season I just fell out of the habit. I went a couple of times to see the AA team in New Haven, but didn’t reconnect with the sport. (Going to New York once Major League games resumed didn’t appeal to me: the Yankees were a team that, going all the way back to 1965-66, I had seen as “the enemy” [there’s a great deal of Red Sox fan in me even yet; we do tend to reach back to our origins] and I had never particularly liked the Mets, or Shea Stadium for that matter.) Boston was just a little too far to consider — much as Seattle is now — as a place to “drop into”; a trip must be scheduled and planned. As I spent much of the next five years travelling — and we moved across the Atlantic and back — even my radio habit died out. Baseball was gone.
It took my own son going into Little League play to reawaken the spirit of the game. I like Little League. He’s moving up to the next level this year, and I’m right there with him. Even the tryouts and drills to see what the players can do interests me. (I’ve never made a trip to Spring Training, but I’d like to, now.) We’ve also made our annual pilgrimage to Seattle each summer for a weekend of games — Cleveland the first year, Toronto the second and last year, Oakland. This year, I’m thinking of taking him to Toronto to visit the SkyDome and let him see his beloved Blue Jays play at home. (As for me, over the last few years, I’ve given equal thought to the Red Sox as to the Jays, so the dream trip for me would be to see a game at Fenway.)
In any case, somewhere in the past three years the soul of the game has reawakened. I am reading my old Roger Angell books, counted down the days until pitchers and catchers reported this February and have been diving for the news from Arizona and Florida each morning, look longingly at the fields getting ready for a new season locally, and am thinking seriously about season’s tickets for our Class A Vancouver Canadians and spending the summer at Nat Bailey Stadium.
It’s a game of the mind, and can be played in the mind. I look forward to baseball again on the radio (I’ve never really enjoyed it on television, although turning the television sound off and substituting the radio play-by-play to the pictures works) I’ll be at Opening Day down at Currie Field in Memorial Park for our local Little League — it’s nice to walk to and from the game — and be keeping score for my son’s team.
Baseball is a game where you get used to losing much more than you win; where success three times out of ten is brilliance; where 999 times out of 1,000 you are flawless in your fielding and everyone remembers the one time you err. In other words, it’s an awful lot of life packed into those green diamonds. It is also something that — and let’s never forget that the reality is even Little League Majors play better than most of the people who watch them ever did or will — is still close enough to the human, in scale, player size and equipment, that we can dream of being out there, in the sun, ourselves.
It is a wonderful way to dream, amongst the murmurs of games past, plays made, options for what comes next. Play ball! Spring has come.