“All literary men are Red Sox fans. To be a Yankee fan in literary society is to endanger your life.” - John Cheever
Arizona has become baseball country. The Diamondbacks have been competitive since their inception eleven years ago, and they’re finally drawing a respectable crowd. With the Cincinnati Reds slated to move Spring Training to Goodyear in 2010, we’ll officially split the pre-season with Florida. Glendale even lured the Dodgers away from their very own Dodgertown! Living in Phoenix, I should be in baseball heaven.
So why doesn’t it feel quite right?
I think the problem is that I grew up just outside Boston, Massachusetts. In Boston, a Red Sox hat is appropriate attire for school, a job interview, or your aunt’s wedding. The elements themselves united to challenge your fan-love. Through June, you were practically guaranteed freezing drizzle. July and August? Humidity that would drown the average desert-dweller. And by the time September and October came along, there was a decent chance you would need mittens. If you had season tickets in Boston, you would be allowed to test your mettle against every type of weather. But did we complain? Yes -- bitterly. You could hear almost as much whining in the stands as cheering. But we went anyway, dammit, and we enjoyed it.
It wasn’t just the weather, it was the stadium itself. The seats were more compacted than a car towed from Yawkey Way. It wasn’t until 2002 that the trough was replaced with urinals in the men’s bathroom. As some of my friends noted, there was an almost perpetual stench lingering over the park. But it was Fenway, and Red Sox fans united in fighting for its preservation. We weren’t just fighting for a ballpark, we were fighting for character and history. Fenway would never need a giveaway day, a sign begging for applause, or any concession to fans other than a rendition of “Dirty Water” played over the loudspeaker. The Sox have sold out more than 400 consecutive games, and in addition to the 37,000 fans inside the park, 50,000 more are lining the streets. So while I like the comfortable seats and well-manicured corridors of Chase Field, I find I miss feeling like my ballpark is held together by chewing gum and dreams. I miss rooting for a team that doesn’t have to resort to a gyrating bobcat and fancy graphic design to get the fans on their feet.
The other night, white-knuckled watching the Sox try to force Game 7 of the ALCS, a thought hit me like a wild pitch: I was unready for the season to end. What would I do with my Saturday afternoons? How else could I justify eating a giant sack of kettle corn for dinner? When else would fashion sense allow me to wear a matching hat, shirt and baseball-stitched bracelet? I decided to compile a list of my favorite baseball books (and some I’ve just been meaning to read) to be sure I could sustain myself through the long, cold baseball-free months.
The Twin Hickory Public Library celebrated Banned Books Week with a cross between a living museum diorama and a carnival side show. Volunteers sat in the display and read banned or challenged books while trying, I suspect, not to appear self-conscious. Or fall asleep.
Last Saturday, writer Steve Almond appeared at the bookstore to give a reading. It’s an event that I anticipated with a level of glee that threatened my studied facade of literary snob detachment. I had to school myself to avoid unflattering comparisons to thirteen-year-old girls at their first Avril Lavigne concert. Which is why I determined not to blog about the event: I wanted to avoid looking like a sycophantic fan-girl.
Why then, you might ask, am I blogging about it now? I’m getting there.
I’ll come clean: my adoration of Steve Almond has little to do with his writing, even though I thoroughly endorse his work. My devotion is the result of living in Boston in 2006, when he made the kind of stand that most of us only fantasize about. Boston College had invited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be their commencement speaker that year, and Almond responded by resigning his post as adjunct professor of English. He did so publicly, in an editorial that was published in the Boston Globe. And Boston -- nay, the nation -- exploded. Was it because they were so supportive of Condoleezza Rice? Polling numbers would indicate otherwise. I suspect it has more to do with Almond’s blatant disregard for his financial security or popularity: a stance I applauded even as I wrote aggressively pandering publicity pieces to pay my rent. In short, Steve Almond boasted the balls I wished desperately to grow.
I also admired him for his ability to withstand the brainwashing that seems to overwhelm everyone who comes into contact with Boston College. I personally have encountered more than one BC alumna who received a gift of breast implants upon matriculation. Allow that to sink in for a moment: their parents actually bestowed heaving, silicone-infused bosoms to their daughters to reward -- wait for it -- their hard work and intelligence. I saw brilliant girls attending BC become more concerned about Coach purses than, well, Condoleezza Rice’s official title or job performance.
Almond’s in-store appearance was everything I dreamed it could be. He ranted and mocked his audience, he elicited complaints from passersby, and he came with the New Times' recently retired Booze Pig, Colin Redding, who brought delicious, complimentary chocolate from Granny’s Chocolate Creations. I embarrassed myself by losing nerve and failing to ask an insightful question, then choked on my own tongue when I asked him to sign the books I had brought along. It was like a fairytale.
But this week, reading my freshly autographed copy of Not That You Asked, I came upon his rant “Blog Love,” in which he analyzes the role of the literary blog. In a rare moment of diplomacy, he is careful not to condemn all blogs. But he asks the basic question -- why do they exist at all? What is the purpose? Comparing himself to literary blogger and outspoken Almond critic Mark Sarvas, he writes “We both face the same doomed task: to write in an era that has turned away from the written word.”
Is this what this blog is for? A last stand against the inevitable demise of literature as we know it?
Or is it simply a forum for me to reveal the deep, abiding fan-love that ensures I will never be cool?