THE VOICE OF GENERATIONS
In the world of psychology, it is a given that the sense of smell is the most evocative of prior experiences. Who am I to dispute the science? But if sense of smell is number one, for me, the sense of hearing is a close second. I can hear a horn, an alarm, or a voice, and be transported back to my childhood as fast as, well, the speed of sound.
In the world of sports psychology, there is a school of thought that your prime sports fandom years are between ages 12-14. For boys, this is oftentimes pre-puberty, pre-girls, pre-high school, and pre-real pressures. It is when you are introduced to fantasy sports and advanced stats, and when you still have an innocent and healthy love of players and teams – unsullied by what we, as adults, know to be true about both.
Recently, I have given a lot of thought to this topic – how the sound of a voice can bring back memories of childhood.
Billy Crystal, and many others, have told tale of walking out of the tunnel of Old Yankee Stadium and seeing – for the first time – the bright green grass. Who hasn’t been moved to hunger by the smell of a Fenway Frank as you walk up concourse from Yawkey Way? How many stories have you heard about the taste of a cold Old Style while sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field? Can you feel the grit of peanut shells in your hands as you mow through an entire bag before the third inning? All are true. But for me, it’s the sounds.
And certain sounds, certain voices, resonate more than others.
Imagine you were, like my father, born in 1941. By 1955, you were in the prime of your sports fandom. And if you happened to live in New York, you were lucky enough to listen to Vincent Edward Scully announce to the world: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world”.
But let’s say you were born ten years later, in 1951, at the tail end of the Truman Administration. If you lived in Los Angeles and were fourteen years old, you would know – with absolute certainty – that “the mound at Dodger Stadium … is the loneliest place in the world”.
And what if you born a decade later, say 1962, and were watching a game the first week of the season of your twelfth year? You would be too young to have heard the words of Dr. King, but you would remember, with absolute clarity: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. . . A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol”. And it is a great moment for all of us”.
Or, like me, you were born in 1972. And maybe you aren’t a Red Sox fan, but you are 14 years old. Can you still picture – even without the benefit of a VHS tape – “A little roller up along first. Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner!”?
Or two years later, if “She is . . . gone” doesn’t get you dusty, maybe it takes, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened” to start the waterworks.
If you were born in 1981, and lived north of the border, and were about to enter your teen years, you probably can never forget this from 1993: “A fastball is hit to leftfield, down the line, in the corner . . . homerun.” And then you and an entire nation celebrated for a total of 45 seconds before another word was uttered.
How about someone born after the turn of the century (like my son), 60 years and three full generations after that kid (like my dad) in 1941. And at 12 years old you hear the words: “The Wild Horse”. Who/what do you imagine? Unless you love dressage as much as baseball, I defy you tell me that this doesn’t fill your mind’s eye.
And, no matter your age, no matter your hometown, when you hear: “It’s time for Dodger baseball”, an amazing alchemy happens – a paradox that cannot be duplicated by any drug. When you hear those words, when you hear that voice, your blood pressure immediately rises with unmitigated excitement, and immediately drops as you know you are in store for mellifluous sounds for the next 2½ hours. When you “pull up a chair”, sit back and enjoy a “very pleasant good evening”, it is that voice – that sense of sound – that transports you to a happier, simpler, and more contented time. It’s not the photographic memory, the Mark Twain-esque story-telling, nor the “deuces wild”, that I will miss the most. No, what I will miss the most is the sound of being 12-14 again – when turning on the TV or the radio meant there was no need to long for easier times, easier times were ahead for the next nine innings. That, for me – and for decade upon decade of baseball fans – is what we will lose this Sunday when the best there ever was says “and a very pleasant good afternoon to you, wherever you may be” for the very last time.
I miss him already.