This was originally going to be a post about how great it is that New Kids On The Block are getting back together, but that changed. Maybe another day, all you NKOTB-ers. I know you are out there, just salivating over this news and my take on it.
But alas, this post will not be about that. It is about the rites of spring, camaraderie, and the relationships between men.
Ahh, springtime. When a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of....baseball? Well, if you had grown up in New England, they would. The fresh air, combined with the April showers and warming temperatures beget burgeoning green fields of lush grasses, perfectly suitable for lighthearted games between children and adults alike.
I've stated many times here on this blog my thoughts on religion. And they haven't changed much. But if I was forced to choose a religion, it would be baseball. I would worship at the altar of the double steal. My priest would have been Curt Gowdy. The Pope would be Carl Yastrzemski, or Pope Yaz for short. Tony Conigliaro would be our Prophet and Savior. And as for God? Well, that's easy. No one else but Ted Williams, of course.
And if we had a Basilica, it would surely be Fenway Park.
For those of you unfamiliar with Fenway, it is the smallest ballpark in all of baseball. Which would, at first, seem counter intuitive. If Boston is so baseball crazy, then why not build a bigger ballpark? It is a logical question that has been asked for the last 20 years. The answer is simple: We don't want it. We want the intimacy Fenway supplies. It makes the game that much better. Eighty-one times a year, 40,000 people get together and have one kick ass party for 3 and a half hours. And for those 3 1/2 hours, everyone in that ballpark is equal. There are no classes. There are no pretensions. There is just baseball. And, sure, it can get a little rowdy. But that is what happens when passions are inflamed.
The beauty of it is, as I said, we forget our pretensions. The stockbroker and the construction worker gleefully debate the intricacies of the hit and run or the suicide squeeze. The bank teller and the deli clerk share the stories of their first trip to a game, so many years ago. The computer analyst and the housewife bemoan their husbands' maniacal behavior, and then let out a visceral "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" that puts the gentleman to shame.
Baseball is the great equalizer. We all learned the game as kids, and anyone can play. All you need is a stick and a ball. And I have never met a person who has seen a pickup baseball game being played that didn't stop and watch for a few minutes. And you can see them pining, wishing that they could play. And when finally asked, they roll up their sleeves, and loosen their tie, and almost in a childlike trance pick up a glove and hustle out to an open spot that needs covering.
Men and women gladly play ball with children they have never met. If only for a few fleeting minutes. There isn't enough time anymore. Baseball is a game that requires time. But people are far too busy to stop and take the time to play. It's why I fear children are losing interest in the game. And it saddens me. They would rather play their video games and watch TV instead of picking up a glove and tossing the ball around with their friends. And parents aren't any better nowadays. They are far too busy to play catch with their kids. They would much rather the kids entertain themselves with the video games and television.
And that is slowly destroying a game we once called America's Pastime. That has given way to football. FOOTBALL! How barbaric! I have nothing against the sport. I watch it occasionally, and even enjoy it sometimes. But to compare it to baseball and the beautiful dichotomy that is its complexity and sheer simplicity is almost laughable. Baseball can be played almost anywhere, anytime, by anyone. You need almost no skill to play. You pick up a bat, someone throws a ball, you try to hit it. You need no knowledge of button hooks, or fly patterns, or 32 belly options. There is no violence. The point of the game is not to try and kill your opponent. The point is to out strategize the other team.
There are no arbitrary rules like offensive pass interference. Or the tuck rule. There are only simple rules: You hit it, they catch it, you're out. You put the ball in play and reach base, you have a chance to score.
And there is no convoluted scoring system. There are no three point field goals or two point safeties. If you score a run, it's worth one run. Plain and simple.
There are no "specialists" who are there to perform only one job. Everyone has to do everything. Offense, defense, you have to perform equally well at both to win the game.
The only problem is the time it takes to play. A good football game takes maybe 2 hours to play out. A good baseball game can take a minimum of 3 hours, sometimes four. And yes, there are some who may even find it boring. But those who do, don't understand the finer points of the game. (They are also probably hockey fans.)
Baseball is a game of guile and cunning. It requires deep thought and intuition. It requires you to notice small, seemingly insignificant things and use them to your advantage. Like the way the pitcher holds his glove before he comes to the plate. The way the catcher positions himself. The way a batter stands at the plate: whether he stands back from the plate or hangs over it, up in the box or back in it. It is seeing how the third baseman might be playing a little farther back than he should be. So you, who's usually a power hitter, might try and drop a bunt down and see if you can't get a cheap single out of it. And even if you don't, hey, you moved the runner up from second to third and there's still only one out.
OK, I've definitely gotten a little esoteric here, but do you see what I am saying? It isn't boring. Maybe slightly tedious at times, but surely never boring.
I think I am so fond of baseball because it was a way for me to relate to my father. I don't talk about him much here, and there's a reason for that: I don't really like him. He was a terrible dad, and an even worse husband. The things he did to my wonderful mother.... need not be explored here. But when it all came down to it, he was still my father. And he loved baseball. He was a great pitcher when he was a kid, and he passed his love of the game on to his son. I wanted my father's love. And I never got any from him that was not directly related to my being good at sports. I would play ball for hours and hours, trying to make myself better, so that maybe he would say to me, "Hey, kid, you were great. I love you."
But that was almost impossible to come by. He was a cold man. Not very emotional. The little emotion he did show was to yell at my mother, or at my brothers and sisters. He was a drunk, and not a fun one. There was nothing more important than getting drunk. If it was a choice between paying the mortgage or going on a bender, the bender always won.
Luckily, he was out of my house long before I was able to realize what kind of person he was. It was the smartest decision my Mom ever made. But there was still this pathological need for his approval. Even though I knew I was good at what I was doing, to be told that by your father is what all young men want, what they dream about. I wanted to make him so proud, that he felt guilty for leaving us, for treating us like garbage. It doesn't really make sense, but to me it did.
And baseball was the way to do it. He was at almost every game I played in growing up. I could hear his gravelly voice cheering me on all the way through high school. It was the only way he ever showed he loved me. I could hear the pride in his voice when I was on the field. He would talk to the other parents and extol my finest qualities, listing them for everyone to hear. It was fulfilling to hear it, even if it was not really directed at or intended for me. He never told me how well I had played. He only criticized me and told me how I could do some things better and why I was doing other things badly. And he never gave me more than a "Good game, Adam," or a pat on the head.
But there was never a time when I wouldn't look to play catch with him, regardless of my feelings for him. Even in high school, after I had learned how truly awful a person he was, I would still play with him. If only so I could show my disdain for him by how hard I would throw the ball at him. The more he rubbed his hand afterwards, the more satisfied I was. I think he knew how I felt, and he still does. We haven't talked much for the last, oh, 10 years. The last time I spoke to him was at his mother's funeral over a year ago. And it wasn't a conversation about his Mom, or our embittered past. Or even why it is we don't talk much anymore. We talked about the Red Sox, and how the team looked this year, and what moves we thought would be important.
It may sound hokey, but the film Field of Dreams had it right...
There is really only one thing that fathers and sons are able to talk about, no matter how dark and dismal their past is. And that's baseball. So, another season begins. The Sox are back at Fenway, and the world is back to normal.
And if I ran into my father tomorrow, that is all we would be able talk about.