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A League of My Home

I am writing this on a sunny and fragrant June morning, sitting in the bleachers off the Little League field on which I played all those summers ago. My Little League coach, Larry Lee, died last week, and it is a Kauffman family habit (not an eccentricity!) to revisit places associated with the recently deceased.

I can see myself out there at shortstop for the Cubs in the National League playoff game. Bottom of the sixth, tie game, bases loaded, grounder hit my way, I field it cleanly, throw home… and into the dirt, skipping it past the catcher. Game over, season over, Little League career over. Shucks.

Pretty much every male relative of mine—father, brother, cousin, uncles—was all-league in baseball or football, but as for me, well, they also serve who only sit and watch from the bench. I’m a quinquagenarian now, rather to my astonishment, and I still bring out the glove to toss the ball with our daughter, who humors the old man with a game of backyard catch in the high grass.

I don’t hold, however, with my Upstate landsman Frederick Exley’s morose conclusion that “it was my destiny—unlike my father, whose fate it was to hear the roar of the crowd—to sit in the stands with most men and acclaim others. It was my fate, my destiny, my end, to be a fan.” (Exley’s books belie any such shrinking violetism.)

This is the 75th year since professional baseball came to Batavia, and we are among the last of the train-whistle towns in the low minors. I sit in these bleachers, too, with friends and apparitions, conducting decades-long conversations and hearing ghostly echoes.

Even in the bushes, alas, those ghostly echoes can get lost in the din.

Each batter has his own “walk-up music,” which means that every time a home team lad strides to the plate we are treated to a ten-second snatch of his favorite song. Year in and year out, the boys’ collective taste is execrable. I’ve yet to hear, say, X or Neil Young, though what I really long for is the sound of silence.

Conversation is the casualty in the empire of noise. I am vice president of the team but I can’t get the damned decibelage turned down. John Nance Garner was right about the impuissance of VPs.

change_me

In minor-league baseball, the place, and not the players, is the thing. This place is: My old friend Donny Rock, the groundskeeper, lining the basepaths. Grande dame Catherine Roth, now 92, refusing to stand for the vapid “God Bless America,” which since 9/11 has afflicted our ears during the seventh-inning stretch. My mom, who has lived her entire life in our Snow Belt county, putting on her jacket when the temperature dips below 80. Yappy Yapperton, countless sheets to the wind, yelling inanities from the beer deck. (Scratch that: Yappy is either dead or in prison today.)

The boys of summer come and go; I prefer life in the bleachers. A fair number of big leaguers have passed this way, and I follow them in the box scores. Especially Phillies’ stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, who were, in successive years, very kind to our daughter during the Muckdogs v. Muckpuppies games. (These tilts required the boys to come to the park the Saturday morn after a Friday night game and presumed revelry. The guys who showed—Utley, Howard, and some very good-natured Latin American players—were saints.)

July/August 2013 [1]As for the majors: yawn. I can rattle off the starting lineup of the 1975 Kansas City Royals but I couldn’t identify a single player on the 2013 Royals roster. It’s not early-onset dementia, or so I hope; I just don’t care.

Several years ago I had a free afternoon while visiting D.C. and thought I’d take in my first Nationals game. The Metro ride to the stadium, with its passengerial cargo of black and white ball-capped fans, was a rare and heartening sight in our segregated capital city.

As I neared the ticket booth I hesitated. Did I really want to spend three hours fidgeting through interminable TV timeouts, which make between-innings breaks and coaches’ trips to the mound foretastes of eternity? Nah. So attending a Nats game remains on my list of Things to Do in D.C. Before I Die (along with visiting the Frederick Douglass home and the gravesites of Gore Vidal and Clover Adams at Rock Creek Cemetery).

Back in the bleachers I think of William Cullen Bryant’s poetical wish that he die “in flowery June/When brooks sent up a cheerful tune.” Bryant got his wish. It’s the little victories that count.

Bill Kauffman is the author of ten books, among them Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette [2] and Ain’t My America [3].

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "A League of My Home"

#1 Comment By Leslie Garrett On June 28, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

My direct paternal ancestor arrived in Jamestown in 1635, and when I was a child I used to see well over a hundred relatives at family reunions. I cannot recall any of my eight great uncles, either of my grandfathers, or any of my parents friends ever talk about baseball. I had three brothers who all went on to college, and none of them ever played baseball or cared anything about what we considered to be a game associated with urban immigrants who had been conned into thinking this was the way to become real Americans. My only childhood friend who was a serious baseball player and a fan was Jewish; he did that instead of joining the Boy Scouts, which he considered to be a Nazi youth program, but which was the finest thing that ever happened to the rest of us.

I do not think this endless romantic gushing over baseball is anything but the residue of the advertising industry’s constant pressure. There is no deep, long-standing American love of this pastime, or if there is then it is very localized. If you took real polls on the subject you would surely find that Americans as a whole do not differ greatly from the rest of the world in regarding baseball as a tedious game that is appallingly boring to watch and not a good way for children to get good exercise.

#2 Comment By Aaron Whitley On June 28, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

I agree Leslie Garrett.

What is with this site and all of the baseball articles? No tennis? No soccer? No football? No basketball? No golf? NASCAR? Rugby? Cricket? Badminton? Greco-Roman wrestling? Volleyball?

Something?

#3 Comment By Todd M Peterson On June 28, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

One of the reasons I love baseball is that it signifies the daily grind of life. Some days the ball doesn’t bounce your way no matter what you do but, there is always tomorrow and another day/game.
The other reasons is the pitcher/batter duels fascinate me.

#4 Comment By Brian Gerson On June 28, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

I have to disagree, Leslie – it seems your family traditions encompassed things other than baseball, but I wonder if that might not be the best way to generalize a country’s relationship to a sport that so far this season has sold over 35 million tickets—not to mention the millions more who watch from locations too far or with pocketbooks too shallow to attend the games live.

As for “appallingly boring”, I’ll just leave you one of my favorite quotes about the game, spoken by the late Earl Weaver:

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and five the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

I agree. Nicely written article, Bill – I hope you make it out to your first Nats game soon.

#5 Comment By JB On June 28, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

Leslie, put my family and most of my close friends down as avid baseball fans. We don’t find it boring to watch, especially in person, and it is supposed to be a different fan experience from, say, football and hockey and basketball.

Having said that, the NFL has done a masterful marketing job and has made the Super Bowl far more popular, both in North America and around the world, than the World Series.

As for the rest of the world, there are very few people outside of the USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Latin America who know even the most basic rules of baseball, let alone have ever been to a game.

And by the way, as someone who spent years playing soccer — by far the world’s most widely played and most widely viewed sport — and really enjoyed it, I have to say that soccer on TV is painfully boring. Even higher-level matches. To each his own, I guess.

#6 Comment By JB On June 28, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

Aaron: I have no interest in articles about any of the sports you just mentioned. Glad whenever I see baseball discussed at TAC.

#7 Comment By Robert Pickard On June 29, 2013 @ 12:40 am

You are right. When I was 5 (in 1935) I was a rabid fan of the NY Giants and worshiped Mel Ott and Carl Hubbel. Going to the Polo Grounds with my father for a double header with the hated Dodgers and urging Ott to “park one” or watching him pick off a runner at third from his position in right field is a spectular memory. However, when the Giants and Dogers moved to the west, baseball was never the same. Something was lost and I can only believe that it had to do with where the game was played.

#8 Comment By Dennis Brislen On June 29, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

Nice.

There is in the wisdom of aging a sense that for all the benefits of “progress” there as well comes a certain melancholy for the way it was.

The lords of baseball, driven by fear, fear that the excitement generated by NFL and NBA were eclipsing them, made a fateful decision.

Faced with a marketing challenge; either sell what made baseball indeed different, that is a distinct charm, where generally normal sized men competed in a game requiring thought, skill and patience; a game much like the lives we live, consisting of many ordinary occurrences punctuated by a few above average plays and even fewer tremendous plays. Or, market it (and make it) an event like football and basketball, filled with hype, energy, music and noise. Divisions, playoffs, interleague play.

They were cowards.

Rather than stand apart, they chose hype over product.

Hype that lowers the pitchers mound, juices the baseball and winks at steroid use. Hype that turns announcers into screaming partisans, every ordinary fly ball a near home run, every routine play a “key” one. Hype requiring two or three in the broadcast booth vying with each other as if paid by the word, to “analyze” every play, yea, every pitch.

Gone forever is the poetry of sanguine summer days and nights made lyrical by the ballgame.

It’s still a wonderful game, players more skilled than ever, fans still show up, more for an entertainment package than the game, but hey, “modern is what modern is” spake the hypemeisters.

It is what it is but…oh what it used to be…

#9 Comment By Brian On April 6, 2015 @ 11:25 am

Beautiful Bill. This hits home more than ever right now given recent news that a big name pitcher from the team with which I have a love/hate relationship (Ervin Santana of the Twins) was caught doping.

The Major Leagues are beyond repair. It’s time we look closer to home.

#10 Comment By Ivy On April 6, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

Place is captured from a kid’s perspective in the perennial movie “The Sandlot”. The sheer joy that kids have in playing ball resonates in a time when kids bury their faces in tiny screens.

#11 Comment By Daniel Coxon On April 6, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

I find all this “small towns are special magical simple places where humans can be more human” stuff to be almost as lame and lazy as baseball. We are sojourners in this world. There is no home to be had this side of the gates. Stop trying to find comfort and a simple life. It doesn’t exist. The world is rated R, the edges slice. Stop looking for gloves and start building calluses. And play a real sport like rugby.

#12 Comment By ck On April 6, 2015 @ 5:38 pm

“What is with this site and all of the baseball articles?”

Seeing that this is the “American Conservative” which takes a sort of Burkean view of the past, it should be obvious why baseball captures the spirit of this site. This conservative spirit is aptly captured in “Field of Dreams” spoken by James Earl Jones:

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

#13 Comment By David Pepe On July 4, 2018 @ 8:20 am

Sadly this overuse of hyperbole never ends. The newest “stat” meant to impress us, delivered up by tv and radio broadcasters is now “exit velocity”. Coupled with distance travelled it isn’t good enough to simply hit a home run.
Don’t get me started on replays of close umpire’s calls. How did MLB ever survive for over 150 years?

#14 Comment By Carlo Cristofori On July 4, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

“I recently paid a solemn and respectful visit to Gore Vidal’s grave. It is to be found in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington. You take a few paces down the slope from the graveyard’s centrepiece, which is the lachrymose and androgynous Mourning Figure sculpted by August St Guldens for Henry Adams’s unhappy wife Clover (whose name always puts me in mind of an overworked pit pony). And there in the grass is a stone slab, bearing the names and dates of birth of Vidal and his lifelong companion Howard Austen.” ~ Christopher Hitchens [4]

#15 Comment By connecticut farmer On July 4, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

@Leslie

[5]

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball…”.

#16 Comment By One Guy On July 5, 2018 @ 2:14 pm

Somewhat off-topic, but something I find fascinating, having played a lot of both soccer and baseball as an adult: In the USA, baseball is the “national pastime”, but almost no adults play it. In other countries, soccer is the main (only?) sport, and almost everyone plays it, at least every male.

#17 Comment By New England John On July 5, 2018 @ 3:44 pm

Was this article reposted or was it bumped up by David Pepe’s comment yesterday?

#18 Comment By Josep On July 8, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

@ One Guy
Most other developed countries that follow soccer also have other sports such as basketball, tennis and hockey. JB mentioned that baseball is also played in Japan, South Korea and Latin America. I think it’s developing countries that have soccer as their only sport.