Sunday, March 30, 2008

Opening Day.

A moratorium on photographs for a day or two, I think. I wonder if I haven't been cultivating or recultivating a pretty healthy fear of the written word here, and in sticky places, just tossing up a photograph of a thistle. Not that I often have the fear in quite the way that many of my friends and colleagues do, which is to say, I don't often get paralyzed by the blank screen. I'm fortunate in that way. My paralysis — or, more accurately, my misfirings, my crossed nervous signals — arrive(s) in the fear that the few hundred words I can shove out no problem are just that, shoved out, a kind of highish-minded well-intentioned badly faux-literary version of the Jumble. Which in our newspapers growing up appeared next to the Family Circus. Remember the mother's haircut? I remember that.

Our weather: Cold. Even the Weather Channel says so. I think we'd even get 'Cold' or 'Cool' if it was January. Thick low gray clouds and showers. The birds out there sound confused. We're not supposed to freeze. Spring comes back this week. Except that this too is spring, if I'm remembering correctly, and I know I am: It's Opening Day. The Red Sox and the Athletics have already played two that count in Japan, but we are not for our purposes going to count that. We really shouldn't count tonight — the Reds play at 1 tomorrow, which is as it should be, and the game tonight is the only one on the schedule, as opposed to the fullish slate tomorrow — but since it's the Braves tonight, ANYLF is happy to throw out a, if not the, first pitch.

More than enough people have written poems to baseball (Malamud, Burns, DeLillo, to name a few), so this can't be that. This is instead what Opening Day has always felt like to me, which is a return to something very basic, if something can be very basic. As opposed to simply basic. Baseball season starts again. One of my favorite ways to go to church as the half-assed grownup I've half-become is to put on a late Wednesday night game I don't much care about, a West-coast American league game like the Royals at the Mariners, maybe, to set the set to mute and put on some music and pour a low drink and sit in the back room and watch some kid throw left-handed middle relief until I'm sleepy enough to go to bed. I don't require that this be anyone's pleasure but mine, and I try not to proselytize too much outside of the pat shopworn line I'll deliver to my classes tomorrow — baseball season's begun; all's right with the world — because of what an easy lie that is to tell. So little is right with the world, except that it's spring again, and much is blooming and greening over. It's this and only this: For someone like me, having a game on TV, especially a Braves game (I'm from Atlanta), helps with all that is wrong.

My dad, when I was seven and eight and nine and ten or so, took me to Opening Days at the old round sixties-era Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. More accurately, Home Openers, as the Braves were so bad then as to generally not merit being at home on Opening Day. They were better off as cannon fodder for the 1 pm Cincy game. And here, friends and fans of those old Braves teams (remember Claudell Washington? Glenn Hubbard? Gene Garber, whose son I played Little League with?) and of weather: It was always bitterly cold. It was April, it was Atlanta, and the temps would be falling down through the forties and into the thirties up there in the cheap seats. We'd bring my dad's old army blanket, drab green wool with the shiny drab sateen edging, huddle with our Cokes underneath that thing, talk about how cold it was. Younger years, we'd (gasp; heresy) leave by the seventh inning or so. But once I was old enough, we'd stay all the way through, me, yes, with my cap and glove, and him telling me to be ready, be ready, a foul ball might come our way. Only once in my life has a foul ball come my way, when I was twelve, in Nashville, at a brutally hot and humid Sounds game, and my grandmother, to save me, shoved me somehow under my seat. The ball hit the arm of my chair. I was an All-Star that year. I could have caught it. She bought my cousin (who would later preside over my marriage to AMR) and me ice creams in those miniature batting helmets to make it up to us.

Baseball means there's only six weeks left of school. It means summer's coming. It means soon enough my ex-landlord will be arriving unbidden on the WeatherDeck to kidnap me to go to Winston or Danville for minor-league games. It means I'll sometimes go to the Disneyfied stadium here in Greensboro, a sad, sad improvement on the crumbling War Memorial Stadium the Bats used to play in. They're not even called the Bats anymore. I can't bring myself to say their new name here. But if summer's coming, it means that a new project is surely looming out there somewhere, the whatever comes next after the novel that's not even finished. The second novel. I think there is a second novel. Which is bound to mean some difficult evenings, some rudderless days, a week or six where I'll feel so fortunate to find the Pirates playing late and way up the dial at the Padres, a 9-6 affair in the fifth inning, a child called up from the minors already, in June, coming on in relief. He's got a good curve, but his control isn't so hot. He's bouncing it up there every now and then.

Those are the players I love to watch. The guys batting .212, the pitchers who can't find the strike zone. It's a kind of basic struggle, on display for anyone who wants to look. It's not any more or less American than anything else, and though I'm maybe more likely than most to get caught up in that particular and peculiar brand of Opening Day flag-waving (baseball! America!), I try my best to love it only and merely for what it is: it's the return of something long and complicated and basically meaningless. It's a sure sign of summer on a day that really ought to be cold. Needs to be cold for it to feel right, and it is: It's 40 degrees here. Just started raining again. It's going to rain some more. Tonight, in D.C. (forecast: cloudy, 40), the Braves play at the Nationals. They should have (re)named that team the Senators, but they didn't. Flawed from the start.

The Braves always lost. We'd come home and my mom would want to know how it had gone, even though she'd watched the thing on TV and knew perfectly well. I always wanted to know if she'd seen us. She always said maybe she might have, that she might have seen us really, really quickly as the camera panned the crowd. She couldn't be sure, though.

Baseball's back. No photography today, please, flash or otherwise. Just watch the game.

1 comment:

Kathryn Frances Walker said...

the jumble. that killed me.