I believe in the metaphor that is baseball.
I believe in baseball’s ability to transcend this time and place.
Whether played by children, professionals, or simply listened to on the radio, baseball has the power to return us to a more ideal era, an era of hope, of possibility, of promise.
Even in these dark drug-laden days of professional sports, I still listen to the Seattle Mariners on the radio.
When the roof is open on the stadium during our long dry summer nights, I can hear the mournful sound of freight train horns in the quiet moments. There have been many quiet moments with the Mariners these past few years.
The lowing horns take me back to a small town in Kentucky and my childhood.
There was a little jewel of a baseball park, a relic of the heady minor league team days of the mid-twentieth century.
The park was located a few hundred feet east of the railroad yards. Every game was accompanied by the creaks, thumps, rattle and roll of steel on steel as trains started and stopped, jostled and murmured like the small-town patrons filling the covered grandstand after a long day’s work.
We took our places with our Cokes and popcorn, snow-cones and hot dogs, and watched this season’s heroes perform their timeless magic.
Baseball is part of the genetic sequencing in my family, though we have produced nothing more than avid fans.
I can still feel the magic of catching my first line drive; the sharp crack of wood on leather, the white dot that grew from a pinpoint to a full moon in a split second and my gloved hand, of its own accord, rising to meet the ball, and then the hard punch of the ball in the palm of my hand.
My grandmother, newly married, was whisked away to Chicago aboard these same trains for her honeymoon. The majority of their days were spent in Wrigley Field, urging on the Cubs.
Until her death in 1994, three-quarters of a century later, she continued to cheer her beloved Cubs.
Of course, even the most virtuous of fans cannot be expected to remain, in the face of unrequited decades, completely faithful. When her son relocated to Atlanta, she was able, in good conscience, to divide her loyalties with the more successful Braves.
But the real solace of baseball, as she explained to me, is not in the winning, but in the minutiae of the game. The line drive caught, the near-electric shock of “getting a piece of the ball”, the improbable catch and the nuances of pitching.
My grandmother’s grandfather, Seth Curlin, spent his last moments on this earth in the same little baseball park in rural Kentucky.
Baseball season opened on Sunday, May 1st in 1921. My grandmother tells what a beautiful day it was, with the heavy scent of the black locust trees in bloom and the sun shining.
Sometime in the first inning the center-fielder made a spectacular catch.
Seth turned to his companion and said, “That’s as pretty a catch as I ever saw.”
Moments later he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and quickly died.
There could be no better passage for a fan.
He experienced, in that one inning in May of 1921, the pure heart and soul of baseball defined in one spectacular, if inconsequential, center-field catch.