Saturday, October 28, 2006

Naked Without Baseball

Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!
-Jack Buck, (1924-2002) longtime St. Louis Cardinals announcer

The last week has been intense. I've been following the increasingly exciting saga of the St. Louis Cardinals, who defeated the Detroit Tigers in just FIVE games and won the world series on October 27, 2006.

Unbelievable but true: I don't just eat, sleep and breathe books. For 6 months out of the year, I'm also about baseball. My favorite team is the aforementioned 'Redbirds". If I can't see their games on TV, I'm usually at the computer, reading the play-by-play.

Although I'd rather see a Cardinals game than anything else, I will watch other teams. Watching baseball is soothing, calming and relaxing for me. Of course, if the Cards are playing, this isn't true -- I'm too emotionally wound up with their day-to-day fortunes.

I've even been watching the Korean baseball championships. I don't see much difference between Korean baseball and MLB, except that in the former, the strike zone seems really HUGE.

I'm being redundant, (so sue me) but for me, baseball is the perfect sport. I watch other sports from time to time (hockey, basketball and soccer) and although I enjoy them, I never really have that feeling of utter relaxation and concentration.

Speaking of soccer -- this will sound silly to seasoned soccer fans -- when I first began watching soccer last year, I was so amazed that the clock runs up instead of down. I spent most of those first games staring at the clock in fascination, losing track of the action on the pitch.

One of the many things I love about baseball is that there is no clock. Nine innings are played, more if there's a tie at the bottom of the ninth. When a win has been achieved by one team or the other, the game is finished, no matter how long it takes. Beautiful. The absence of a clock gives baseball a classic, historical feel. A feeling that an important ritual is being conducted.

This has been said before, so I'm not going to worry about being blasphemous: There's something liturgical about baseball. I get the same peaceful feeling watching a baseball game that I did when I was attending Episcopalian church services. For a brief time, all the snarls and snags in my life are combed smooth.

The Book Of Common Prayer is a wonderful example of how beautiful spoken language can be, and I feel the same way about the language of baseball. It feels so right to my ear, like music. It feels so good in my mouth, like a savory meal: Strike. Ball. Full count. Fastball. Curve ball. Hanging curve ball. Breaking ball. Pop fly. He flied out to center. He grounded into fielder's choice. Can of corn. Double play. Squeeze play at the plate. Home run. After 6 months of that on a daily basis, why would anyone ever want to listen to/talk about anything else?

The Cardinals were triumphant in just 5 games, but now the season's finished. I'm a lot closer to Siberia than I was when I was living in the United States, so winter here seems colder and bleaker. Add in the fact that there's no baseball until next spring. Pretty grim. Oh sure, there are sports news stories about off-season trades and players who have had surgery for their injuries, but those news tidbits hardly suffice to fill the gaping crater created by the absence of baseball.

The calendar is an enemy that s-l-o-w-l-y becomes a friend as spring training draws closer, then finally, it's the first day of the new season. As John Fogerty said:

we're born again/there's new grass on the field

I'm giddy with relief at having survived another off-season, making students and friends and family members suffer while I celebrate opening day by reading my favorite (no kidding!) poem, Casey At The Bat.

Right now, I'm happy and sad, euphoric and depressed, all at once. Too many emotions to deal with. I can't get them out in a sane-seeming manner, so I've got a plan: I'm going to damn well read them out. Yes, it's true: Baseball books are on the docket for the next few months. Here's the beginnings of a list I've cobbled together:

Men At Work: The Craft Of Baseball -George F. Will
[I think there's a chapter in this book about Cardinals manager Tony La Russa when he was a manager in the American League. Whenever I see George Will on news talk shows, he comes across as stiff and pompous, but when he discussed baseball in the Ken Burns documentary, he lost that stiffness and pomposity and seemed more alive. Unbelievably, he exuded something akin to sex appeal]

The Boys Of Summer -Roger Kahn
[Kahn's memoir of growing up in the 1930s and 40s in a household and neighborhood full of Brooklyn Dodgers fans. This is considered a classic in baseball literature]

Wait Till Next Year -Doris Kearns Goodwin
[Also a memoir, and also about the Dodgers, but the 1950s Dodgers, which was the most exciting and heartbreaking time to be a fan of theirs, as Goodwin shows. My only re-read on this list]

Early Innings: A Documentary History Of Baseball 1825-1908 -Dean A. Sullivan
[Being in love with baseball is a lot like being in love in general: I want to know every detail of its past. I want to know how it got started. I want to know what it was like in its infancy. I want to read about people who were playing it and watching it and thinking about it and writing about it a century before I was born. If that wasn't enough, there's a reprint of Casey At The Bat]

Well, that should get me started. I'm so glad I was lucky enough to be born a bookworm! How do nonreaders get through the long months of the off-season?


SuziQoregon said...

"Why is the Foul Pole Fair" by Vince Staten. I read this last year and loved it.

Hera said...

as a regular reader of your blog, I just want to say... GO CARDINALS!!!

Bybee said...

I'll add "Why is the Foul Pole Fair?" to my BL (Baseball Booklist). Thanks!

Les said...

I love Doris Kearns Goodwin's Wait Til Next Year! I've read half of Mike Lupica's Summer of '98 and need to get back to it. Beautiful, lyrical writing, imho. You might enjoy it.

Bybee said...

The Summer of '98? I know this will be a great book, because that was a great year in baseball! I wrote that I don't like to see the season finish each year. It was doubly, even triply true that year! Thanks for the recommendation!