Thursday, February 05, 2009

A gift in the mail

My baseball season tickets arrived in the mail yesterday.

It is my one splurge; it is my passion. I love the game. I love sitting in Section C at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, in the springtime sun of a Sunday afternoon, watching the shadows stretch across the field.

I love keeping score. I love watching the girls retrieve the bats. I love the symmetry of it -- three strikes, three outs, three times three innings.

I have told you how much I need an escape to stay sane. Our national game is just that.

And it's funny. As my enthusiasm has waned for the major leagues, I have come to adore the minor leagues and college baseball. I cover high school baseball, too. I told somebody once that the only thing I want named after me when I am gone is the press box at the Halls High baseball field.

If I could wave a magic wand and do whatever I wanted, I would steal Roger Angell's life -- at least part of it. William Shawn sent him to spring training one season in the early 1960s and said, "Write about what you see." Thus Angell has done in the New Yorker, on and off, for the last 40-some years.

I often think that the modern day sportswriter, feeling the pressure of working a daily beat, misses the story. They have to cover the game unfolding on the field. How many times Chipper Jones hits a home run. How many strikeouts Tim Hudson racked up in his last outing. And so forth.

I once watched Herman the usher dance and yell in the section in which I was sitting, somewhere along the third base line, at Turner Field. I had the story written before I returned to the keyboard. The Braves lost. And yet Herman smiled.

One opening day, I watched the sky turn from peaceful azure to brilliant pink. Seventy-three degrees. "Sweet Caroline" on the loudspeaker and an empty seat next to mine. I thought of a girl, big brown eyes and dark hair, and wished she were sitting to my left. These are the moments I remember.

John Updike wrote the best piece ever composed on baseball, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu." Guess how? The subject of an interview stood him up. So, he went to Fenway Park on an impulse, bought a ticket, sat in the stands, and wrote about Ted Williams' last at-bat. It was quite good.

Angell is a master, too. Oh, and W.P. Kinsella, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop (I'm still thinking about submitting a piece -- just to see if I can get accepted), wrote a magical little novel, "Shoeless Joe," that became a magical little film, "Field of Dreams."

Yes, I am sitting here in my living room, watching snow melt from the patio table, dreaming of spring. I can smell the peanuts and Cracker Jack, I can see the shadows stretch across the field, I can see that fellow in Section C, Row 4, Seat 3, losing himself in the national game.

Six more weeks of winter? Maybe. For me, though, it will arrive on Feb. 20.

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