Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Past Time" Baseball Project

                The story of my life is the story of many things. While things in my life prior to entering the Air Force (August 13, 1990) are important to the formation of who I am in in the now (January 11, 2014), I choose not to write about them (for the most part) because a lot of what I remember about the significant details of them is truly forgotten other than that they happened and they were important. All things considered, for me, high school ended in 1989, and if the calendar is correct, that was 25 years ago! I have students that aren’t even old enough to drink (despite being in college) – let alone remembering the 1980s (or for that matter, the 1990s). How can I be expected to remember that long ago (or even shorter periods of that)?

             Fortunately, I have many pictures and notes and accountings over this period of time.
            Through the last 17 years of writing (the time when I abandoned daily prose, which was long after I abandoned daily crappy poetry), my themes have been reflected upon in the way that I have told stories about many of the events that have affected my life. Nevertheless, for the purpose of those of you joining the party after the fact, I will do my best to get you up to speed.

1)      Currently, I am a teacher (something I've worked at since the day in the Toiyabe Mountains on August 28, 1998), but if this were to change, I would say that education, both learning and teaching, helped to define who I was versus who I had become (they can do the same thing for you). In this, education has to mean something; when it stops meaning something, you are being sold a bill of goods. Also, there are differentiations between levels of accomplishment, both mine and yours, and by challenging ourselves, we can become better than we are. Finally, education is never ending since it doesn’t have to be formal and in a classroom. Thus, I would say that to love life means to know something about it, in the past, present, and future of our places in the world.

2)      I would not be who I am without my time in England. The things that I experienced made me who I needed to be, and I am thankful for the people who touched my life during this time period. To this, my time in England makes me more ancestrally English than many (not all) people’s European, African, and Asian fixations on their genealogies. Nevertheless, I don’t consider myself anything other than an American with experiences abroad. While I appreciate that other people find their non-American ancestors' experience to influence them, I do not. Nevertheless, I do appreciate everything England was to me.

3)      However, being an expatriated American (who never knew what it meant to be an American) meant that I had to come back to America and discover the American in me. I did this on the highways, trails, bookstores, and streets of this country as I worked hard to discover the answer to the question, “What is America?” In this blog, I do my best to answer the question as truthfully as I know. By ditching the parts of America I never liked or related to prior to the time that I was in the Air Force, I found these things. That's a good thing.

4)      Meeting, marrying, and transitioning to become who I am as part of a permanent couple with my wife. Understanding love, commitment, purpose, and place are essential to all things, and who would I be without the feelings that we share and the places and events that we have experienced with and because of each other? I know it could sound sappy, but I really do love my wife.

5)      There is a ghost world place in my writing, both in the places and people that I used to know and in the world of the dead that touches on the living. Here, Mesa Verde is my Machu Picchu since it reflects a place that early life in America began as well as for the parallel that it has with Pablo Neruda’s epic poem. It is also important to say that I do believe in ghosts for the experiences that I have had and for the William Faulkner quote on the past not being past. Other than the spectral ghosts, I feel the romanticized and existing past in the words and deeds of poets and singers and historical figures surging through me, and for that, there is much of Walt Whitman’s expression in the influential nature of who I am. Who would I be without my cast of characters standing in some form of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover artwork?

6)      My friend B once said that he wouldn’t want to live in a world without Lou Reed, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world without music of many varieties and sorts. Music is the force that moves us to be where we are going. Philosophy, theology, and emotional understandings are the expressions that guide it, and yeah… where would I be without these art works?

7)      The game of baseball.
I think about this and I reflect on how Rogers Hornsby said, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell them what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." I also think about how Walt Whitman said, "I like your interest in sports ball, chiefest of all base-ball particularly: base-ball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character. Sports take people out of doors, get them filled with oxygen generate some of the brutal customs (so-called brutal customs) which, after all, tend to habituate people to a necessary physical stoicism. We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set: anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race. We want to go out and howl, swear, run, jump, wrestle, even fight, if only by so doing we may improve the guts of the people: the guts, vile as guts are, divine as guts are!”
          Back in those early days, I remember buying a baseball preview guide in 1997 (Beckett Sports Baseball 97) as I flew to California to see my friend K. Derek Jeter was on the cover. From the time that I first encountered him on that magazine to today, he has been the face of the current version of baseball. I've hated him because he was a Yankee, and I've respected him because he has more heart for the game than anyone else that I can think of. Who else would smash their face to get an out against their hated rivals?

         Just like Rose and Fosse, Chambliss's home run, the Pine Tar Game, Merkel's boner, the Shot Heard Round the World, Mazeroski and Carter and Gibson's homers, and Jackie stealing home, this became a defining moment of the game (I still contend that getting Jeremy Giambi at home is over-rated because Giambi couldn't outrun a turtle).

         A lot has changed in the game since that day. Chicks dug and still dig the long ball, but only Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are going to be in Cooperstown after everything sorts itself out from what was so all-consuming about the game in those post-strike years of the game (at least for the average fan). The game still prides itself on its numbers and its heritage as it tries to figure out what to do with those last holdovers from a bygone era. And yes, it's messy, but that doesn't make the game any less great unless you're Craig Biggio and you need 2 more votes. That doesn't keep me from burning the hot stove bright from November to late March / April when the first meaningful games are played again, wondering what free agents will be signed, what Japanese player will be imported, and who will retire or be suspended.

          Nevertheless, from Larry Walker's quest for .400 to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home race (parts 1 and 2) on through to the fall of the Twin Towers, the rise of Barry Bonds, and the Diamondbacks victory in the desert that I never believed would happen (so I went to bed before Luis Gonzalez came through right after Rivera mowed down Arizona in the 8th), my first 5 years back to the game since I lost track of it as a teenager / expatriated American were fantastic. And for that, I never went to bed early, work day be damned, through the Red Sox heartbreaker in 2003 and the multiple victories in 2004 to win the greatest comeback in baseball history. From Millar to Roberts to Mueller to Papi to Schilling, that was a glorious series of moments. Now, in the 9 years since then, the stakes don't feel so high - at least after the Yankees and Braves get eliminated. There is no curse except in Chicago and Cleveland. Great players have come, and great players have gone. I've watched them all. I've learned their names. I've gone from Yankee hating to drafting Yankees on my fantasy teams, and while the game consumes me, I even give up the TV during the World Series so that my wife can watch her REAL shows or I can spend time with her (though not always - the ho shows are a little much for me). I have found MLBTV for the money shots and pornography of the sport (it's just like National Geographic Adventure except it's moving images!), and the countdowns, Sabremetrics, and general talk / news shows provide more than enough to keep me moving toward being my very own Peter Gammons / Bill James.

         I once stated that, "I prefer my baseball players dead." Sadly, many of the great ones are. Maris, Gehrig, Johnson, Joss, Jackie Robinson, Cobb, Wagner, Feller, Greenberg, Musial, Clemente, Paige, Mathewson, Koufax, and Ted Williams. Others come from a bygone era that is no more in the same way that they (and many great ones like them) are no more (at least in what they can do on the field). Gibson, Brooks Robinson, Henderson, Brett, Rose, Molitor, Sutter, Gwynn, the Wizard, and Sandberg. Still, they live to tell the tales of greatness that still seem so recent, but in fact, it is old school history. Some other great players from this era still represent many great things about the game. I wish them well, but sadly, I know the odds are against their immortality in the Finger Lakes. At least for some of them. Pedro, Randy Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez, Ichiro, Pujols, Schilling, and Big Papi. Others come up for their turn as we speak. Puig, Trout, Harper, Strasburg, Verlander, Weaver, Machado, Fernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Yadier Molina, and Kershaw.

        For all that they have done and that they will do, they inspire me and they entertain me. They represent the grand old game that is my country. It's not football with its clock and the ability to run it out. It's not the swagger of the NBA. It's not the brutality in the back and forth of the NHL. It's not the back and forth running game of soccer (or European football or whatever you want to call it). It's not the long haul and turn left of NASCAR, which is only exciting at the end. It's baseball. It's 60 feet 6 inches. It's 9 innings of a game that is divided into 3 outs for each team an inning. It's a batter hitting the ball up the middle or through the holes to drive in runs. It's a pitcher dropping a nasty 12 6 curve on a batter to make him look stupid. It's give him the gas. It's drive it deep over the fence. It's the majesty of the unpredictable and the heartbreak of loss. It's one more chance to be great. It's the opportunity to be a hero or a goat. It's Sid Bream's slide. It's the empty space under Buckner's glove. It's running on the field to slap Aaron's back as he conquers racism and Ruth's home run record. It's a plane crashing into Nicaragua. It's a full-on pile of players coming into a group as they win it all. It's wait until next year. It's the fact that this is next year.

        This is baseball.

        For this, where would I be without the game?

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