People who know me know I’m passionate about a lot of things: my writing, social justice, public service, my family, and much more. That’s not necessarily in order of importance, by the way.
What a lot of people don’t know is I live and breathe baseball. Not the minutia of statistics (sorry, Stat Cast) but the machinations of the game itself. I learned it, as the cliche goes, at my father’s knee. Apparently, I was not even six months old when he took me to my first game–in New York to see the Yankees. I watched my dad pitch in pick-up games and in softball leagues and knew he longed to pitch in the big leagues. The Army had too many other plans for him.
He helped me with math by teaching me how to calculate a batting average, an on-base percentage, and how to determine how many games behind a loss would create. We’d watch games together on television, and he taught me the grips for the various pitches–back then only a curve, a fastball, maybe a slider, and the knuckleball. Oh, the man loved a knuckleballer.
My love of baseball was cemented in 1961 when Micky Mantle and Roger Maris of the Yankees battled for the home run title. Some evenings, I could tune a radio station out of New York and listen to the games, but mostly I had to read the box scores the next day to see which of them led the American League in home runs that day.
Late one summer, in a particularly tense end to the baseball season, my dad borrowed the little black and white TV from my room, somehow adapted it to plug into the cigarette lighter in the self-propelled, air-conditioned combine, and my dad would watch a Saturday afternoon game as he harvested corn.
As I grew older and more opposite him in my politics, baseball was the only subject we could discuss without devolving into a shouting match.
Thor and Robert Lewis Stevenson and Gehrig
You may have realized I’m a Yankee fan, but if I’m going to watch a National League game I prefer the New York Mets. Even my American League dad got caught up in the Miracle Mets of 1969, and for the first time we were both happy when the National League won the World Series.
Today (May 2) on MLB TV, I watched the Mets play the Cincinnati Reds, which is probably my team I love to hate because of Pete Rose’s cheating and Johnny Bench’s misogyny. It was an epic game, won by the Mets, 1-0.
The Mets’ pitcher was a freaking Norse god named Noah Syndergaard, all 6’6″ and flowing blond hair, who throws heat (fast balls) among his other killer pitches. Think Chris Hemsworth in the first Thor movie but better looking. The only run in the game came from his home run–the only time in the Mets history they won a one-run game because of the pitcher’s home run. Pitchers still hit in National League games, and the two announcers from SNY network were all about discussing the designated hitter coming to the National League until that happened.
Then, the announcers, in between calling the game, had a discussion about the literary merits of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Kidnapped versus his Treasure Island. I kid you not. Kidnapped was preferred, it seems, because it gave the reader a lesson in Scottish history and culture. They next discussed the movies made of the two books and the actors involved, ending up with a story about how Peter Finch, the actor, would go to a particular bar in Manhattan, get p*ssing drunk, and act out all the roles from a Shakespeare play. (One of the announcers had apparently seen this happen.)
One of the announcers pointed out that two days before (April 30) was the eightieth anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s last game with the New York Yankees. The original Iron Man (sorry, Tony Stark and Cal Ripken), Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games (a record Ripken broke fifty-six years later) and only stepped aside once he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the incurable disease that now bears his name. The player who was to replace Gehrig in the lineup was so distraught at having to do so Gehrig had to console him. The announcers waxed philosophical about that incident, about how it “spoke to Gehrig’s character,” how it embodied the spirit of baseball.
In addition to throwing a complete game, a rarity in baseball today, (I grew up in the era where pitchers were expected to go nine innings and relievers were rare), Syndergaard faced some drama in the ninth inning when a Red got on base and stole second with two outs. Up to the plate comes Yasiel Puig, known for his power, but the Norse god Thor threw his hammer three times for three strikes, and game over.
It wasn’t a particularly meaningful game at this point in the month-old season, but it was the kind of game where my dad and I would sit on the edge of the couch cushions, eyes glued to a minuscule TV screen, eagerly awaiting the next pitch, and cheer at the outcome. For the first time in a long time, I felt him with me, watching.
It was, simply, a baseball game, and I love it.