July 17, 2006
Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€” Sharon Olds, b. 1942
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â American poet
It was the best part of my summers before Ron and then Lynn came into my life. From 1979 through the summer of 1982 I followed the fortunes of the Lower Dauphin Falcons baseball team, and, when school ended for the year, the same players, who merely changed jerseys to become the Hummelstown American Legion team. My interest had been piqued by a pair of tenth graders whose loveÂ for the game spilled over into their writing.Â
“They play baseball outside, you know,” said someone who knew my apparent aversion to sitting in the sun, especially sitting thereÂ with my nose not in a book. “I know,” I said. “I’m only going toÂ one or two games.”
And I did go to two games, and then another two, and then some more, about two dozen through the school season. And then the Legion season, another two dozen games, a mid-season tournament, and then, because the team was hot, the playoffs, on into August. At that first game I knew little beyond the fact that there were nine players on a team, a game couldn’t end in a tie, and that once there had been no joy in Mudville. By the end of the summer I could explain the infield fly rule and discuss the strategy of the pitching rotation and the batting order. And I believed beyond doubt sportswriter Red Smith’s assertion that “Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection.”
When the Legion season ended in 1981, I’d been to probably two hundred games, evenÂ following the teamÂ a hundred miles to the state playoffs that year. I’d made friends among the parents and enjoyed seeing them at other school events. Baseball gave focus and direction to what could have been a lonely and depressing time in my life.
These were the years when my first marriage began crumbling. By the summer of 1982 it was in its final stage. We’d married in 1975 for all the wrong reasons, me to assuage a broken heart, him to, . . . well, I honestly don’t know what motivated him.Â After the first wave ofÂ marital bliss wore off, it became clear that weÂ had little in common and wanted very different things from life.Â By 1980 he was workingÂ until six and then stopping at a neighborhood bar, often arriving home well afterÂ ten o’clock. With no job during the school vacation and no children to look after, I was at loose ends. Knowing there was a baseball game at 6:00 most days gave me something to work toward. People who are unhappy at home cope in many different ways. Some drink, some have affairs. I went to baseball games.
And then the boys who had been tenth graders in 1979 grew too old even forÂ the Twilight League (amateur baseball for the over 18), and the high school team endured some “rebuilding years” after the glory that had been 1981. I married Ron in 1983, had Lynn in 1985, and my life took onÂ a differentÂ focus and a new joy.
Last Friday, gathering up the day’s newspapers for transport to the recycling bag, I happened to glance at the sports page Ron had left open on the counter. A large picture of a pitcher about to go into his windup caught my eye. “That looks like Gary P.,” I thought. I read the caption. This was Spencer P., an outstanding pitcher and heavy homerun hitter as well. Gary’s nephew, I knew, without even looking it up in the alumni directory.
The Hummelstown Legion team, many of the players the sons of the boys I once followed, have won the 2006 league title and tonight began the playoff series toward the state tournament. I worked all dayÂ on several projectsÂ (I have a lot to do before I gallivant off to Vermont for nearly the whole of August), and even did some cleaning. And then, just as in the old days, I took a nap, ate a light supper, and left for Nye field in Hummelstown.
Going back to Hummelstown is not easy for me. I had to screw my courage to the sticking-place the first time I actually entered the building after I retired, and then hash out the feelings in a long essay posted here.Â And even though the baseball field is three blocks from the high school building and holds nothing but pleasant memories, I still felt a little awkward.
It was the bottom of the first and Spencer P. was at bat. I stood at the gateÂ and watched him hit a homerun with one on. He did indeed look just like his father and his uncle. Then I walked along the third base line and took a seat in the home bleachers.
“Margaret!” I heard someone call. “How did you get to a baseball game withoutÂ your lawn chair! Get over here! The pretzel can is open!” It was Spencer’s grandfather, and his grandmother too, the people I always sat with. I had not been to a baseball game in twenty years,Â not seenÂ these people sinceÂ a Christmas partyÂ maybe fifteen years ago. And yet I was instantly recognized and welcomed back into the crowd.
I talked to Spencer’s other grandparents â€”Â his maternal grandfather had been my first principal â€” and then, after the game,Â to his parents. I talked baseball strategy with them, family history, community history. I was given the schedule for the rest of the playoff games and said I’d be back tomorrow for Game 2.
The news these days is upsetting. Ancient conflicts that apparently cannot be resolved are tearing apart the Middle East. Natural disasters are threatening us, the economy is in turmoil, uncertainty is everywhere. And yet for two hours I was able to sit with old friends in an island of grace and calm, believing that, at least during this playoff series, the world is not going to blow up.
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