Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Beloved baseball


Until I moved to Idaho, baseball played a big part in my life. Now that the San Francisco Giants are in the World Series, I have been flooded with memories of the times I so enjoyed that sport. My cousin's son, a California teacher, has written two books about the Giants, and I know that he and his dad are over the moon with joy (and probably have access to tickets, as well).

My papa, born in Boston, was a lifelong Red Sox fan (how he would have loved their very belated Series triumphs), and many times our house and cars resounded with baseball radio broadcasts and the announcers' lingo and enthusiasm unique to that time.

When I was 7, we moved from San Francisco to Southern California, and I decided not to root for any team from Los Angeles, carrying my loyalty to the North to listening to a radio quiz show that pitted L.A. and San Francisco contestants; I applauded only my former city's team. But my Uncle Doc was doing some publicity for the Hollywood Stars, and thus I got to accompany him to Gilmore Field, where I fell in love with the sport and players like Carlos Bernier, who was the best at stealing bases. (He was promoted to the majors in 1953 as the first black player ever to play for the Pirates.) We sat in a box near movie stars like Jean Simmons, and I was in heaven. Later, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A., I became an avid fan and worshipped Duke Snider.

My spectator's enthusiasm didn't carry over to my high school participation in girls' softball, however. I was so skinny and, with my sticks of legs clad in red bloomers, I hated anyone looking at me. Unfortunately, the third-base line was next to the cafeteria/lunch area, and I would have to stand in my position there and be teased by the boys who had first lunch while I had P.E. Thus, my occasional attempts to catch a ball were accompanied by shouts of "Go, Bones" or "Go, Twig."

Eventually, I married a man who won a spot on a Triple-A team (he turned it down when his parents threatened to disown him if he did that instead of graduate school). He was a natural, and I can't count the nights that I spent as a young wife and mother rooting for him (he was a shortstop) in various night leagues. One team was the Entertainment League, so I would also get to cheer for people like Bobby Darin. It was fun: I have pictures of me at one of the games with the huge belly of a woman who would give birth in just a couple of days.

Later, when we lived in Malibu, our whole neighborhood—kids, dads, moms and anyone who wanted to participate—went to the new campus at Pepperdine University and played softball on the diamond overlooking the Pacific. The rules were relaxed; the only dictum was to have fun and play, even if you weren't an athlete. Between "ups," the smaller kids could ride their Bigwheels on the safe side of the fence near the bleachers.

One of the things I miss about California is that I always seemed to be a fan of a sport where I could attend games, sit in the stands and just get lost in the excitement of the moment. (When I was at UCLA, we had a run of wonderful football teams, so that was great fun, also). As a parent, at least I got to see my girls play T-Ball and then Little League. Talk about rooting!

I still love the flavor of the sport. The uniforms, the twitches, the mannerisms, the poses, the chewing gum, the struts, the sexy bravado, the superstitions, even the plethora of statistics—somehow all of these peculiarities add up to a quintessential American style.

I can understand why, when we were in New England one fall, my husband sneaked into Boston's Fenway Park (unbeknownst to me) and spent a few moments at home plate swinging an imagined bat. Any boy who grew up in our generation would have been equally tempted and thrilled by standing in the spot so many greats once commanded. Only the voice on the loudspeaker from the announcer's box deterred him: "Get the hell out of here!"

In homage to my "boys" and Dad: I'm tuning into the World Series this time. Yay!

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