Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fending Off the Offseason

“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.

1. Shut Out, Howard Bryant
2. The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski
3. The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, David Halberstam
4. The Wrong Stuff, Bill Lee
5. Ball Four, Jim Bouton
6. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, Eliot Asinof
7. The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream, Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez

8. Baseball: A Literary Anthology, Nicholas Dawidoff
9. The Natural, Bernard Malamud
10. Shoeless Joe, W. P. Kinsella

11. Baseball: 365 Days of Color Photographs from the Archives of Major League Baseball, Joseph Wallace
12. Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon, Neal and Constance McCabe
13. Grand Old Game: 365 Days of Baseball, Joseph Wallace
14. 100 Baseball Icons: From the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Terry
Hefferman, Kit Hinrichs and Delphine Hirasuna

15. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Nelson Kadir


sarah marine said...

A Wisconsinite, my sports allegiance lies almost entirely with the Green Bay Packers, but there are two great literary moments which beckon me to my own private ballpark. Those moments are: the opening chapter of 'Underworld' by Don Delillo and the short story 'Bullet in the Brain' by Tobias Wolf.

Brandon Stout said...

The opening chapter of Underworld is magnificent. So good, in fact, that it was later reprinted as a hardcover novella called Pafko at the Wall. How many novelists can say that their own opening pages are so strong that they deserve stand-alone publication? Pretty impressive.

I agree about "Bullet in the Brain" as well, especially the final paragraph:

"The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can’t be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is."

Wow, right?

Arsen Kashkashian said...

Dennis Lehane's new book The Given Day opens with a wonderful baseball scene. During the 1918 World Series the Cubs played the Red Sox. On the trip from Chicago to Boston the train stops in nowhere Ohio for repairs. Babe Ruth gets off the train and wanders to a clearing where there is a baseball game being played by the local black players. He joins in and things go well, until the other white players show up.

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