Saturday, April 10, 2010

In spring a Girl's Mind

turns to baseball. My love of baseball often surprises those who do not know me well. They think of me as a basketball fan, as a short woman who still plays when she can. Of someone who longtime friends know had a Chris Mullin scrapbook in junior high. But, baseball was my first sports love.

The story begins long before I was born. I have a childhood memory of a story, possibly untrue, that my maternal grandfather once tried out to play major league baseball. In those days, baseball did not pay as it does now, and in the story, he turned his back on the game because with 17 children in his family they needed a stable and steady income. Even today I have no idea if the story was true, but it made an impact.

My father is from Brooklyn, born and raised. In fact, he met my mother when they both worked for the Brooklyn Public Library system. My older brother and the rest of my Dad's immediate family were all born in Brooklyn. Growing up, my father was a devoted Dodgers fan. He attended games, listened on the radio and followed the Dodgers we have all read about--Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, etc. He raised my brother and I on these stories. In the stories, his heart was broken year after year as his team was invariably the second best in baseball. As soon as I was old enough I read The Boys of Summer, which confirmed both my father's stories and the romance of the Dodgers.

Unlike my brother, I was born in Connecticut. By that point my parents had left Brooklyn to raise their family and settled in a small town west of Hartford. This is crucial, as geography in Ct apparently has a strong influence on baseball loyalties : We were on the Red Sox side of the line. I tend to think, that even had we been on the other side, we would have been Red Sox fans. Given my father's childhood loyalties, there was really no chance he could ever be a Yankees fan.

Many of my early childhood memories involve hearing baseball on the radio in the neighborhood as we played outside on long summer nights. We collected baseball cards, despairing over ever having a complete set of Red Sox. We traded cards, always excited to find a fan of a different team who might be willing to part with a much needed card. As we got a little bit older my father started taking us to games at Fenway. In those days, one could go to games at Fenway without spending hours online to buy tickets. He would pile my brother and I in the car, generally with our across the street neighbor Sean and later assorted other friends and buy tickets for the whole group in the bleachers. We were taught to keep score, following the game with pencils in hand. I still have memories of a program from one season with the cover "HOT" for the pitchers Hurst, Ojeda and Tudor. We cried in 1978 and although Tom and Sean would probably not admit it, in 1986 as well. We were, much like my Dad's beloved Dodgers, often the second best team in baseball.

Of course, we had favorite players. As my brother was the oldest, he had first choice and opted for Fred Lynn. I'm assuming that Sean and I flipped a coin as he went next and selected Dwight Evans. For those who remember the Red Sox outfield of theose years my player is obvious: Jim Rice. Rice was an unlikely favorite player for a young girl, famous for being sullen with the press and lacking the glamour of Lynn. But, I was loyal. His card was the one I searched for most. I tracked his at bats with the kind of devotion that in later years is generally only found in those who participate in fantasy sports leagues. Rice, for those who do not know, was a power hitter. Before Bonds, McGuire and the constant talk of drugs in baseball, he was a player that could make the stadium stop for an at bat. Would he come through with a home run or would it be the dreaded double play? Those moments stay with me, the silence that comes over the stadium as all eyes focus on one thing alone. Jim Rice ended up playing his entire career with the Red Sox. Wikipedia tells me that his career spanned 1974-1989, essentially my entire childhood. In 2009, when he was at long last elected to the Hall of Fame, my entire family called me within a 10 minute window.

I went to college in Baltimore where, pre Camden Yards, one could decide at the last minute to attend a game. Memorial Stadium was a relatively short walk from campus and we went to many games on the spur of the moment. Of course, once they built Camden Yards that all changed and tickets became both too scarce and too pricey for students. Cal Ripken aside, the Orioles were not my team. But, they had Jon Miller, one of, if not the best radio announcers in the game and listening to him was a joy, even when the games were not.

When I moved to the Bay Area, rooting for the A's was not an option. As a Red Sox fan, there was no chance for another American League team. So, the Giants became my local team. Soon they had there very own new stadium in Pac Bell and even brought in Jon Miller to do play by play. I won't go into the Barry Bonds drug situation, but will say that the games I attended during his home run quests were electric.

Today, of course, we hear about Red Sox Nation. My daughter knows the Red Sox as winners rather than the heartbreak of my childhood. Her first live baseball game was a Red Sox victory over the A's in Oakland where it seemed that most of the fans were rooting for the away team. I relaxed my rules about non-traditional colors and bought her a pink Red Sox hat. She doesn't yet love baseball as I did. But, as I was driving home from work yesterday, listening to Jon Miller on the radio, I thought that this might be the year that she can learn to keep score, pencil and all.

1 comment:

  1. I have trouble even now thinking of the Red Sox as a winning team -- they were always the heartbreak team growing up, it seemed.