You had to be there. Maybe you had to be me at age eight and a half, Oct 5th, 1941. I remember it being a Sunday. (Yes, I’m right. I just looked it up). Fourth game of the World Series and the Dodgers had it won but managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It changed my life even though I didn’t have much of a life before then.
I won’t go in to what happened with two outs in the ninth inning. If you’re a fan you already know. It has never happened again. If you are not you’ve probably stopped reading this anyway. The point is that I never got over it. As a consequence, I have never, not once, counted my chickens before they are hatched. Of course, I’ve not counted them after, either. I assume nothing. I cushion bad news. I prepare for every eventuality. Well, not every. I don’t go to sleep in a wet suit in the event of a tsunami.
Baseball teaches us how to fail…..and live for another day. The greatest hitter of all time failed sixty percent of the time. If a player today failed seventy percent of the time, he’d have a long-term contract for about twelve million per year. If a brain surgeon had that rate of failure, he’d be selling shoes at Big-5.
Baseball at age eight is its own universe. It is the first thing I knew my parents didn’t. (No, Mom, they are not pillows; they’re called bases.) I was fluent in its jargon. Stay with it and discover poetry in its stanzas and heroic couplets. There is a Euclidian elegance in its infield proportions, a randomness in the outfield, an existential moment at the plate while the umpire confirms subjective reality.
For refugee families arriving here in the 1930s baseball was their portal into the English language. After a year or two one could speak fluent Baseball. The game was segmented into orderly innings. It was a repudiation of the chaos and incivility in Europe. Then as now it offers the illusion of manageable drama. It is linear. The narrative moves sequentially with innings as decades. The runner travels counter-clockwise around the bases back to home where he began and back to where I began.
What happens on the field is of no real consequence and that’s not a bad thing. Trump is still an infestation to our national heritage. Even as he divides our people that other virus, Corona, is multiplying.
Soon the season will begin in defiance. Controlled pandemonium meets pandemic. Let me hear the crack of bat, the thump in the mitt, the chatter in the infield even if the stands are empty. I’ll be on the couch, eight years old again reliving my early trauma or maybe this time I’ll be on the other side taking a bow for an amazing comeback with four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth to live another day.
Baseball is my arrested development. Some of us grow up. I hope to keep the kid alive in an eternal run-down between third base and home, heedless of the clock.