Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Return to Normalcy

Remarkably, even I was a Boston Red Sox fan last week.  Probably for less time than you were.  The numbing tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt (or should we say "dirtbaghunt?") had us all thinking about our friends in New England and uniting behind the sports teams that play in that city.

Yankee fans put aside their hatred and hung a banner outside the Bronx stadium encouraging Boston to "B Stong."  All of the MLB teams joined in tribute and played the Bosox anthem "Sweet Caroline" in their respective ballparks.  I myself had to endure this cloying and obnoxious rendition in Dodger Stadium and, even though I was totally lockstep behind the compassion about the dastardly events of last Monday, the song still managed to annoy me and make me throw up in my mouth a little. 

And then I smiled.  Because that's how we get through these increasingly prominent moments of America under siege.  We get behind our baseball teams.  

So, on the Saturday following the Friday when our country was riveted to television sets in what unfolded like the unaired ninth season of "24," the Boston Red Sox went back to work at Fenway Park.  Their fans, released from their home prisons, came out to hear their beloved David "Big Papi" Ortiz honor the spunk and resiliency of that city.  Normally a blattering idiot, Ortiz amazingly expounds a speech with the verbal elegance of Frederick Douglass.  That is, if Douglass ever used the "f" bomb in a sentence.

Crowd shots of the fans showed one American flag after another. (By the way, next time you watch a game at Fenway, try to find one person of color in the crowd.  It's impossible.  You have a better shot of finding Waldo.)  And, of course, they then serve up the piece de resistance.  That old fresser Neil Diamond comes out, double chin and all, to do "Sweet Caroline" in person.

And then there was the game.  Because, at the root of it all, we come together as Bostonians or New Yorkers or Los Angelenos behind the one sport that makes it all right.


America's pastime, like no other sport, brings us back to the level of normalcy we should appreciate every time these tragedies happen.  Forget it, football fans.  Shut up as well, you basketball devotees.  It is baseball that continually clues the fabric of our nation every time somebody tries to tear it up.  It is the routine we appreciate.  When we go to a game, we always find life in its usual place. 

The public address announcer's way of introducing the line-ups.

The ritual of how a game is begun.  Different in your park and my park, but always the same. 

There's that peanut vendor you always look for.  He's probably 80 and has been in the job since Joe DiMaggio first hit puberty.  Or the usher that shows you to your seat.  He can tell you all about Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Ted Williams.  He's seen them all.

You sit in the seat you might have first sat in several decades ago.  There are people around you who have done the same.  You may get along famously.  You may not.  But they are faces you know and you welcome every time you walk through the turnstiles.

While Boston was exhaling for the Red Sox game on Saturday and jampacking Fenway Park, I was two hundred miles to the southwest.  At a meat locker called Citi Field which was half-empty.  I'm in the photo below somewhere.
While this ballpark still doesn't have the cushy slipper feel I enjoyed at Shea Stadium, it still connects me to parts of my life that I cherish.  A childhood and part of an adulthood with the Mets.  A World Championship trophy from 1969.
The 1986 World Championship trophy.
And, of course, there's always Mr. Met.  Either in-person or, in the snapshot below, the taxidermist's version of the team mascot.
Meanwhile, there's a game going on here as well.  Even if the Mets now resemble a Little League team that might have been featured in a 1971 episode of "The Brady Bunch."  And, with the small-ish crowds these days, even the Citi Field parking lot has enough room to house Cirque De Soleil on game days.
But a true Met fan doesn't care.  They come anyway to see their friends and share in the love of a David Wright or the hope of a Matt Harvey.  They know that they will hear "Meet the Mets" before the game and Lou Monte during the seventh-inning-stretch.  And wonder why you can no longer get a fried bologna sandwich on the Promenade level.

That's all normal, too.

I look up at the out-of-town scoreboard and, two hundred miles to the southwest of me,  my other team, the 2013 "slow starting" Los Angeles Dodgers, are already stinking up the joint in Baltimore.

That, too, seems normal.

Never mind.  I open up my scorebook and write down the starting line-ups.  In the same way I always have.  In the same scorepad published by the same guy that I have bought them from for years.

It's a sameness that we all need when life around us gets ugly.  Baseball games have gotten me through some personal dark passages of existence.  As it has for others.  And for cities.  And for a country.  Just like in 2001, we look for Joe DiMaggio.  A nation turning its lonely eyes always to you.

The sport has the power of an elixir.  A tonic for our nerves.  A warm spring that rejeuvenates our spirit.  A pillow that will allow us to all get through the next night.

And it's always the same.  Your team wins.  Your team loses.  Your team plays into October.  Your team doesn't.

But you come back every April.  Regardless of how awful things can be around you.  And, in our once-safe land, awfulness is increasing at geometric proportions. 

David Wright grounds into a force play to end a rally.  The Dodger bullpen gives up the winning runs to the Orioles in the bottom of the night.  The Met reliever is named Atchison and I immediately turn to my friend and make a "Harvey Girls" reference that only he will get.

That is all normal, too.

Except I think about a moment several hours earlier.  We're approaching the ballpark from the Citi Field parking lot.  A uniformed security guard notices my usual Met game bag, loaded with sunglasses, scorebook, and camera.  He asks if he can look inside.  I gladly comply.  There is nothing to hide.  He thanks me and moves on to the next fan.

That, too, is now....normal.

Dinner last night:  Baby back ribs at Valhalla Crossings.

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