No disappointment in baseball
BY NEIL STEINBERG firstname.lastname@example.org March 31, 2013 6:08PM
Updated: May 2, 2013 6:24AM
The weather, warm, or warmer anyway. The bulbs, planted with such care last autumn, like laying mines, push their pointed green tips through the dirt. At last.
And Opening Day 2013 is Monday — April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough for die-hard Chicago fans, gazing forlornly at a pair of teams whose prospects for any kind of success are, well, bleak. “A growth year,” to reach for the cliche, and why not? A big part of sports is cliche, lovingly served up and appreciated, as if fresh. “It was a team effort.” Well gosh thanks Rip, I suppose it was.
So let’s talk baseball . . . again, why not? I don’t write about sports much, true, because I find it — all together now — the same thing happening over and over again.
But repetition isn’t always a bad thing. Spring is repetition. So are sunrises. Watching an infinity of sporting events with my kid has taught me, if nothing else, there’s a certain joy to this repetition. It’s not dull, it’s a mantra, a koan. Watch, wait, be rewarded.
Particularly baseball. At the risk of channeling James Earl Jones in “Field of Dreams,” baseball knits together our lives, our nation, rolling on, timeless, unchanged.
OK, that’s exaggeration — another sports biggie. Baseball has changed. The players, for starters, are richer, more coddled.
I still have my program (25 cents!) from a 1972 game between my beloved Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. Festooned with autographs from players on both teams, which I snagged after the game by lying in wait in the parking lot, waylaying the athletes on the way to their cars. That doesn’t happen anymore. I’m sure it’s easier on the players, though the kids lose out; I suppose they just sell the signatures on eBay anyway, so don’t keep them for 40 years to remember a sunny afternoon, seeing Carl Yastrzemski play and meeting the new star, Buddy Bell.
No digging in boxes, either. It’s right here. Baseball stuff is scattered around my office, quite a lot for a guy who doesn’t follow sports. A framed 10-by-14, black-and-white photograph of a White Sox player — surprise, surprise — Robert “Fatty” Fothergill, circa 1930. I bought it from George Brace, who took photos at Wrigley Field from 1929 to 1993.
Why Fothergill? A big man, he must have weighed 250, the bat looks like a toy resting on his shoulder. There is this air of serenity, of gravity, to him. The calm of the fat man. A fat kid, I of course had an affinity for portly players — when the Indians snagged Boog Powell from the Orioles, I liked him immediately, just because he had no chin to speak of.
On the wall under Fothergill is a catcher’s mitt from the 1940s — a thick, smooth, caramel-colored disc, indented in the center. It’s lovely; you want to sink your teeth into it.
And the prize, in a plastic sphere: a baseball signed by Hank Aaron. I saw him hit his 703rd home run in Montreal, and the next day interrupted his breakfast to jam this ball into his hands. He smiled and was nice to me.
I don’t want to do a Bob Greene and argue that baseball is divorced from the players and the action on the field. Losing hurts. Rick Sutcliffe blowing that fifth game in the series against the Padres in 1984 — it’s as if something in my soul snapped. But time heals. My colleagues on the sports pages are contemplating the upcoming season of failure with grim resignation. “Disappointment” is the operative word, especially for Cubs fans. A century-plus of disappointment. Well, yes, in one sense. But let me tell you — and we Indians fans also know something about disappointment — that all depends on what you expect. When the Indians took the American League championship in 1995, I shed tears of joy, and later, after they lost the World Series — and lost it again in 1997 — it didn’t bother me at all, and when I tried to figure out why, I realized it was because the idea of winning the pennant was the zenith of my childhood dreams of glory. I wanted the Indians to win the pennant, something they hadn’t done since before I was born. The idea that there was another series of games to be played afterward never crossed my mind.
So I’ll be off to Wrigley Field this year. (As for the Sox, well, I’d rather pay to see a game at Wrigley than get into the Cell for free.) I won’t be disappointed, because all I’ll expect is to sit in the stands and eat peanuts and drop the shells around my feet. That they also play a game is an added bonus. At some point, one hopes, someone on the Cubs will do something dramatic, and we’ll jump to our feet and shout. They’ll probably lose — 2-to-1 odds they’ll lose, if last year is any indication — and we’ll shake our heads and shuffle into the colorful commotion of Addison Street.
Baseball is better than basketball because it is played outside, and better than football because it is played outside in the spring and summer and not the winter. Watching baseball on TV, to me, is like watching golf. But to go to a game, in this nice weather, at the ballpark, well, many adjectives crowd into mind, but “disappointing” isn’t one of them.