No, I haven’t flipped. I am preparing to make a pilgrimage to the land of pilgrims, New England, and will be visiting baseball’s holiest of holies, Fenway Park for the second time, the first to attend a game. Last time was in the middle of winter, and exposes my devotion to baseball. Of all the must see places in Boston and environs, Fenway followed only Walden pond and the Museum of Fine Arts on my list.
I took three hours out of my hectic schedule (I was in Boston on business) to brave the subway, a long hike through the Fens (after I got off at the wrong stop), and the bitter New England cold only to walk around the venerated ballpark and put my hands on the bricks of left field, like a worshipper at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
It had been a long time coming. I had been a Red Sox fan starting with rookie phenom Carlton Fisk in 1972. I was a catcher in high school, and the dramatic homerun in game six of the 1975 series sealed the deal. Moreover, I had intended to attend Harvard since I was in the sixth grade and read a Reader’s Digest article on surgeons. That was when I ceased being an indolent little boy with a deserved reputation for cutting class and corners and became a serious student.
I had the grades and scores by the time I graduated, but by then I had discovered religion, which, I suppose, goes along with being a Boston fan. I entered the ministry and a religious school, although strictly speaking I was an art major, having been persuaded by my mentor that I would receive enough divinity education in seminary. Figured I might as well pursue my passion as an undergrad. I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts–in Philosophy.
By then I was quite the little intellectual, even more suited for the environs of Boston. I thought about that as I took the train to Fenway that cold winter day and listened to two intellectuals, not much younger than I, engaged in an inane discourse on the moral imperative of dressing spiffily. I realized by then, of course, that some people never get out of college. But listening to those two made me understand more than ever why Thoreau got the **** out of Boston and camped on that pond.
I didn’t survive Boston, either. My days as a Rooter ended the year Clemens got tossed from a playoff game. Red Sox fanatics excused incredibly boorish (not to mention cowardly) behaviour from their saviour, which exposed a certain blind hypocrisy. By then I was a father considering the moral education of my then young son. Maybe I just grew up. More likely it was that the Cubs started appearing daily in the friendly confines of cable television.
I am, after all, ultimately a baseball fan, which is the only reason I am, and always will be, a fan of the Red Sox. Not a Red Sox fan, a fan of the Red Sox. It is a subtle, but important, distinction.
Those of you who missed last Wednesday night’s game between the Angels and Twins missed a beauty. Michael Cuddyer, a local boy (1997 Virginia Player of the Year), came off the bench in the bottom of the 10th and homered to win the game for the Twins, who at one point were down 8-4. Lew Ford walked in the 9th to drive in the tying run—not the most glamorous way to extend the game, but as effective as a hit.
Seeing the Angels in the Metrodome reminded me of 1999, when I ended my strike against baseball. I swore off baseball after the 1994 strike which resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. Like many fans, I had had enough. And I wasn’t alone. A Reds fan hired a plane to fly over Riverfront Stadium dragging a sign reading "Players and Owners – To **** With You!". My sentiments exactly. Unlike other fans, though, I wasn’t duped by the Big Mac/Slammin’ Sammy freak show of 1998, a hot dog thrown to the fans to lure them back to the stands. It was obvious something was wrong when not one, but two players not only passed but obliterated a record that had stood for 35 years. If one player had passed the record by a couple of homeruns, I could have bought that. But two players passing a record of 61 by at least 5? Something smelled foul. Having been a bodybuilder myself and looking at those physiques, I had a pretty good idea of what it was.
Not that I spent much time thinking about it. Like I said, I wasn’t really engaged in the game. It amazed me how I could live so easily without it. I found other things to do. That late summer of ’99 I was working on an extended project in Minneapolis for American Express. Minneapolis has a wonderful art museum, and I spent much of my free time wandering its often empty galleries. Then one evening I decided to visit the Metrodome, a stone’s throw from the hotel.
The Twins and the Angels. Both stunk that year, both some thirty games under .500 in September. I was amazed I knew none of their names, though many are now household names. For the Angels, there was Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina and Mo Vaughn. For the Twins, Cristian Guzman, Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, Todd Walker and pitchers Eric Milton and Brad Radke. Most of these guys were making the major league minimum at the time—and they were overpaid. I remember thinking they looked like the Bad News Bears: both teams. I couldn’t believe how bad these teams looked. But the tickets were cheap, and there were nights it seemed I had the Metrodome to myself.
And there was baseball. I missed the game. The byline to Some Ballyard comes from the exhilaration I felt when I first walked up that ramp and glimpsed the Elysian field beyond for the first time in five years. — Michael Norton
Speaking of Jeff Loria, owner of the Marlins, I noticed a news item a while back that he was speaking to officials in Oklahoma City and Norfolk about relocating the team. He once owned the OKC 89er’s, and he probably knows what I know: Oklahoma City is hungry for major league sports. From what I’ve read, the displaced New Orleans basketball team fared well there. The downtown area has been revitalized, with construction of a canal and conversion of the old warehouse area into restaurants and shops called Bricktown. The ballpark, dubbed The Brick, is new and thoroughly modern, though I must confess I prefer Harbor Park with its tugboats, planes and choo-choos. Nevertheless, if you haven’t been to Oklahoma lately your impressions are completely out dated.
When I moved to Oklahoma from California in the late seventies, communications were much more limited, and Oklahoma tended to operate several years behind the rest of the world—not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Cable and the Internet changed all that. I’ve been somewhat amused by the arrogance of some over the years who consider all Okies dumb. That parochial attitude itself is as anachronistic as the stereotypical Okies in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, which makes it all the more comical coming from someone who considers themselves somehow ahead. We all get our information from the same place these days. Besides, they loved Mickey Mantle in New York.
The Mick graces the front of The Brick, which I would swear I saw on the Redhawks site is scheduled to host the first championship of Minor League Baseball between the International and Pacific Coast Leagues. Can’t find the article now to verify it. Maybe somebody jumped the gun with the announcement. Wouldn’t be the first time. It is, after all, the Sooner State.
The Redhawks completed a sweep of the Memphis Redbirds this weekend. Would be happy, except the Tides got swept by Durham. Meanwhile the last two unbeatens in the bigs, Detroit and Milwaulkee, are no longer unbeaten. Oh well, guess no one is going 162-0 this season. My Mets are off to a good start, but they’re 5-1. Beats last year’s 0-5 start.