I wrote before I went to bed last night and I’m back at it this morning because I’ve got a deadline. According to the counter on my desktop, the Red Sox take the field in Kansas City to open the 2007 baseball season in less than six hours.
LESS THAN SIX HOURS!
In the steroid-ridden-unconscionable-salary-giving-over-the-top-
loss-of-perspective world of professional sports, I’m an unabashed Red Sox fan. I have been as long as I can remember. It’s something about both the team and the game. “Baseball, it is said, is only a game.” writes George Will. “True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”
As far as games being unequal, here is one of my favorite George Carlin routines in which he compares baseball and football.
Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!
Football is played on a GRIDIRON, in a STADIUM, sometimes called SOLDIER FIELD or WAR MEMORIAL STADIUM.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.
In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.
Football is concerned with downs. “What down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups. “Who’s up? Are you up? I’m not up! He’s up!”
In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.
In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.
Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting, and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.
Football is played in any kind of weather: Rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…can’t see the game, don’t know if there is a game going on; mud on the field…can’t read the uniforms, can’t read the yard markers, the struggle will continue!
In baseball if it rains, we don’t go out to play. “I can’t go out! It’s raining out!”
Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch.
Football has the two-minute warning.
Baseball has no time limit: “We don’t know when it’s gonna end!”
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end “even if we have to go to sudden death.”
In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling. Emotions may run high or low, but there’s not that much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you were perfectly capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.
And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:
In football, the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! “I hope I’ll be safe at home!”
I write a lot about trying to get home, or at least to find it. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love this game: home is that well defined base with a rooftop between the dugouts, surrounded by the grandstands. Home is the smell of the popcorn and peanuts, the incessant murmur of the crowd that bursts into cheer when the Hometown Team makes them proud. Home is the place you go to sit and watch and talk and eat and, for awhile, keep time by innings rather than hours and minutes. Home is the place where the kid in the top row of the upper deck brings her glove because she just might catch a fly ball. Home is the kind of place that calls up the kind of feelings Milton Bracker describes in “Tomorrow!” (after all, it is National Poetry Month):
Be glad, be gay-
The best of reasons
Is Opening Day.
And cheering the players
And counting the gate
And running the bases
And touching the plate.
And tossing the ball out
And yelling Play Ball!
(Who cares about fall-out-
At least, until fall?)
Let nothing sour
This sweetest hour;
The baseball season’s
Back in flower!
I would love to see the Sox take the Series this year as much as any Boston fan and, cheering for a team that has won two championships in the last ninety years, I’ve learned winning is not the only reason to go to the ballpark or turn on the radio at night to see how the boys are doing. In August of 2004 I got to perform a wedding at Fenway Park, thanks to a friend who recommended me to the couple getting married. That Sunday was the first day the Sox allowed weddings up on the right field porch and ours was the second wedding of the day. The attendees received a program and a box of Cracker Jacks when they sat down. I stood with my back to the park, so the couple looked out over the ball field as they exchanged vows. Afterwards, we went down on the field and had our pictures taken in front of the Green Monster, just steps away from where Manny Ramirez stands during a game. When the Sox went on to win the Series that year, we all took partial credit for helping to break the Curse. We couldn’t help but make ourselves a part of Red Sox history.
“Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away,” wrote Isaac Watts. “They fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.” (I had no idea he was a baseball fan.)
Put me in, coach; I’m ready to play. Today.