Green Fields and the Stories That We Tell
The baseball season ended on Sunday, October 28th. I knew the end was nigh, so even when Manny Machado succumbed to Chris Sale’s slider, it had, at most, three more days and two more games. But the ending is always abrupt. I awoke Monday morning to a final Baseball Tonight podcast. My “friends” Buster and Josh, the gents who informed and entertained my mornings from March through October are now gone from my life…for a few months, anyway.
My finger no longer reflexively finds the At Bat app on my phone. There are no box scores to check, no Joey Votto OBP to track. There are no more Premiere Plays or magic numbers. No, baseball is on hiatus. The game on the field is comfortably hibernating for the next four months while we, the obsessed fans, are left…to our memories. And football, and basketball, I guess.
I love this time of year. I love the changing weather and the coming holidays. But I do miss baseball. And I know I am not alone.
Baseball is more than a hobby, more than the National Pastime (a disputed fact at this point, I am aware). It is part of our daily culture – it is just there. There are no real days off; no Monday-morning quarterbacking or off day between a home and home. It is a metronome over seven months. And it is beautiful. Better writers than me have discussed this ad naseum, so there is no need to expound.
The aforementioned Buster Olney concludes each season – after the final World Series game, after the final interviews, after the final analysis – by playing Bart Giamatti’s reading of his poem The Green Fields of the Mind. If you have never heard it, click here now; if you have never read it, click here now. It is the perfect capstone to the season gone by; it is the perfect ease into the long off-season. It is just…perfect.
I have read that poem too many times to count. I believe, in many ways, there can never be a better encapsulation of the game.
But there is even more to the game than what is in Bart’s prose. As I wrote last week about attending the World Series, first with my father, and then with my son, baseball is about time, and history, and family. It is about reliving memories, and creating ones anew. I am not skilled enough to fully express the emotions I have felt at a ballpark – be it when I was five years old or pushing fifty. But I write this column in an attempt to articulate my feelings and have a place for my kids to go one day (now? soon?) to understand the how and why of my love for baseball – in all its storied splendor. But I fall short in my depiction.
Then I heard Larry Wilmore interview the highly-lauded historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. In addition to being one of the world’s great political biographers (Team of Rivals, The Bully Pulpit, No Ordinary Time, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, Every Four Years, etc.), she is also an avid baseball fan, born and raised in Brooklyn. When an audience member asked her what she does in her free time, after discussing her love of murder mysteries, she said this (and it is my hope and dream to ever be so eloquent):
I went to Fenway Park when I was at Harvard; so reminiscent of old Ebbets Field, and a team so reminiscent of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. We would almost always win but lose in the end. And I became an equally irrational Red Sox fan. We’ve had season tickets now for more than 35 years. And I must say, when I go to Fenway Park sometimes – my father died before I got married and had my three sons – so I have been able, when I go to Fenway Park, now to imagine myself a young girl once more – when my sons are by my side – in the days of my youth with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges. Fabulous days.
And then when I see my sons, sitting in the place where my father once sat, I feel this invisible loyalty and love linking my sons to the grandfather whose face they never had the chance to see, but whose heart and soul they have come to know through all the stories I have told. Which I think is why in the end I have this curious love of history that I have had my whole life. Allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past. Allowing me to believe that the private people we have loved and lost in our families and the public figures we have respected in history, just as Abraham Lincoln and all these guys wanted to believe, really can live on so long as we pledge to tell and retell the stories of their lives.
I can only hope that, through my words on this page, I am telling and retelling some of these stories.