Dodger Stadium:A Sacred Space

“I don’t see it. I don’t…There it..there it is turn left turn left turn left right there where it says “Vin Scully Avenue.” VIN SCULLY AVENUE? My heart was pounding. My head was spinning. Two airplanes, two time zones, 2,661.7 miles from Baltimore and finally, we had arrived.

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It sat like a deserted shrine at this time of day, save a few workers conversing in Spanish, quietly tending to the field and painting white stripes on the mound. “Do not step on the grass!” the tour guide implored. For a moment I was tempted to reach down and secretly pick a small handful to keep as a memento, to reassure myself that I was in fact not dreaming, to reap some kind of blessing from its beauty and perfection, but decided not to.

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Here it was in all of its pristine splendor, silently waiting to be graced by the agile feet of the most elite players of the game. To be surrounded by the throngs of worshippers in the stands.

It was the Fourth of July and who better to tell the Baltimore-based story of the National Anthem than that preacher of baseball, Vin Scully himself:

Yasiel Puig entered the area near the on-deck circle. I watched him closely and intently. He kneeled and made the sign of the cross with a small necklace, hanging his head. I thought of his journey as a Cuban defector just trying to make it to the United States to play baseball; police pulling over his car, a boat that failed to arrive, police raiding his safe house and detaining him for six days, being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard then taken to Mexico by a murderous drug cartel and being sold to a wealthy Floridian who would receive a percent of his future MLB earnings. He stood and made a large cross in the dirt with his bat. His cleats bearing the American flag made all the more poignant by his story.

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Being so far from home, I was overjoyed by the sight of my personal guru, the sage, the teacher, the all-knowing Zen master:

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And look! – One of our saints! (at least to Baltimore fans!)IMG_2409.JPG

Like religious spaces, our nation’s ballparks provide the sacred spaces we need to transcend and temporarily escape the ugly realities of our world. There are all kinds of people here. Black, white, asian, latino, male, female, young and old. In this holy space we are all the same. Baseball fans.

The only wall we care about is just beyond the outfield.

He Calls Them Like He Sees Them

 

“Where is your umpire partner?” I asked. “He didn’t show up. I have the whole field.” he said. Oh. My. God. I felt like I was releasing my child to a pack of rabid wolves seated in folding lawn chairs. His voice gets deeper here.He stands taller and adds a swagger to his walk. His usual smile disappears and he takes on an unimpressed blank stare. “Do you want me to keep the…count..or something?” I asked. He looked at me. “Mom. Really? It’s my job.” I was at the same time impressed and terrified, knowing he was right.

Can I have the coaches at the plate to discuss ground rules?” said a deep voice that I did not recognize. Until I did. That was my kid. He doesn’t need me.

“Ball four.” he said  clearly as the 9-year old pitcher on the mound hung his head in frustration having just walked the bases loaded. After the inning ended, out of the corner of my eye I saw this boy sitting on the end of the bench. His loud, hulking coach was kneeling very close to him, speaking right into his face. “IF you don’t change your attitude you KNOW what you are going to do when you go back out there? You are going to keep walking people. I HATE how you are trying so hard to hit the strike zone. HATE it.” as the boy starting bawling.

I felt the rage rise within me. It took everything I had to stay planted in my chair and not walk over to tell that boy how hard this game is; how if he keeps practicing he will be fine;how it happens to professionals who get paid millions to do it; how to never let some fat, washed-up coach chip away at his dreams.

The next pitcher was far more accurate. My son, at umpire correctly called most of his pitches strikes. The first pitcher was alone now, hanging his head trying to process the terrible advice from his coach. He started studying the pitcher on the mound, then got up to say to his teammate:

“He’s throwing exactly what I was throwing. I threw the same exact pitches he did (he, uh…didn’t) and the ump calls his pitches strikes. It’s not fair. This umpire sucks.”

Sigh. Welcome to baseball.

Playoff Week: Let The Drama Begin

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“I sit here so if I hear screaming and see that no one is on base, I know that I need to go over to that field,” the baseball director advised the assembled group of teenage umpires last night. “Please call me before you eject a coach.”

They have brought out the big gun umpires now, the recently graduated high school seniors, the tall, bearded, jaded guys back from college. Ladies and gentlemen (and I use those terms loosely), it is playoff week. Gone are the relaxing evening baseball games. Gone are the idyllic images of young boys engaging in America’s pastime on pristine diamonds. These parents are out for blood. Or at least, a trophy or a few braggy pictures they can throw up on Facebook to prove their parenting prowess (stifling a yawn).

My son, being fourteen, is no stranger to drama. He has umpired several games so far this season, but has been vaguely disappointed by the relative calm. I think he was really ready for coaches to question his calls, for parents to yell, for kids to stomp back to the bench in anger. Well, he is starting to get his wish now that there are championships on the line.

A kid ran for first last night and made a turn towards second and was tagged by the first baseman. “He’s OUT!” my son called confidently, smiling to himself, ignoring and secretly relishing the screaming sideline. Another kid barrelled towards second base but the second baseman did not apply the tag. “He’s SAFE! No tag.” Again more rumbling.

The college-aged plate umpire told him before the game, “They know I don’t take any shit.” Inspirational.

He’s behind the plate tonight in an elimination game.

The Kids Are Watching

 

There was a different energy in the air at the game last night.

“He goes inside on me one more time, I’m going out there I swear to God.” my usually mild-mannered son muttered to the catcher through gritted teeth, completely out of character.

Then came the next batter. He is tall and from a distance appears athletic and imposing, but on closer inspection is tentative, awkward, shy. He was immediately and unintentionally plunked by the poorly located pitch of the unskilled craftsman on the mound.

“Charge the mound!!!” the dugout screamed then started a chant “Mann-y! Manny-y! Mann-y!!!” He tucked his head and quietly went to first base, unsure.

Most of us baseball fans understand why Manny Machado chose to retaliate against Yordano Ventura. In fact, many of us begrudgingly celebrate it.

By now we are way, way, way past looking to professional athletes to serve as role models for our young sons. Perhaps it is good for them to see that the best way to confront a bully is to punch him out.

Or…is it?

Stop Trying And Just Enjoy The Game

 

If things are not going to plan, many people have been taught that an appropriate response is to “try harder.” For example, when a career situation is not working out, try harder. If school is a challenge, try harder. If a relationship is on the skids, try harder. If the diet and exercise plan has not been effective, just try harder.

But in baseball, “trying harder” is not always the best solution to a challenging situation. Think of a pitcher. He may start the game clearly in his mental zone – relaxed, laser-focused, hitting his spots, striking batters out almost effortlessly. But the minute he starts to “try harder” to do something – to entice a batter to chase an outside pitch, or to throw as hard as possible – he gets into trouble. It is almost always evident in his body language. Shifting his cap. Deliberately taking then exhaling a deep breath.

The same applies to a hitter. In the first few at-bats, he may stride up to the plate, relaxed and confident with a strong, fluid, free-flowing swing. He’ll appear comfortable making the split-second decision whether to swing or to back off. But once the pressure is on – the game is getting close and there are runners on base – he may start to “want” something. He may swing too hard, causing him to lose balance and pull off the ball. He may start to chase pitches outside that he would normally let go. Even in fielding, the fielder must “try” to go after the ball as aggressively as possible, yet not “try too hard” lest he misses the catch or over-throws.

In youth baseball, it is very common to see a big hitter “want” it too much, especially right after he has just hit a home run. Of course he wants another one right away. Who would’t?

One of my son’s (great) coaches was particularly adept at managing the mental game of baseball. The kids, therefore, played loose and confident, never “trying too hard” to get a strikeout, to get a hit, to make a play or even to win the game (which they did – a lot). I can hear him now calling out to the pitcher: “That’s OK. Remember EVERY PITCH IS A NEW PITCH. Don’t try to make anything happen.”

Just like in baseball, where every pitch is a new pitch, every at-bat is a new at-bat, every inning is a new inning, every game is a new game, and every season is a new season, so it is in life – where every moment is a new moment, every day is a new day, every season is a new season. Just like in baseball, it seems like the more we “try harder” to get something, the more it eludes us.

So, maybe the answer is to stop trying and just start enjoying the game.

Can’t You Read The Sign?

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Last night I noticed this new sign hanging on the baseball field fence. A nice sentiment to which I added my own jaded-eye edits just for fun:

“I’m a kid, but my parents think I am the next Bryce Harper.”

“It’s just a game that I like to play for fun, but my parents expect me to win every time.”

“My coach is a volunteer, so if you think you can do it better than him – you should try it.”

“If you see something you don’t like, you should volunteer to help. But don’t expect that will guarantee your kid more playing time or a spot on the All-Star team.”

“The officials are human, and they are also possibly semi-flaky teenagers doing this for the first time.”

“No one will be making the Varsity Team today, especially if you annoy us kids so much that we quit playing by the time we are 13.”

“And no scholarships will be handed out today – or, keep it real – ever.”

“Please don’t embarrass me or yourself today. Again.”

Stream of Consciousness

I may or may not have warned you of my perfectionist tendencies and how this can often be just a very advanced form of procrastination. I have deceived myself into the idea that every post here should really  be some earth-shaking, riveting commentary on the (discussed for centuries) topic of baseball. I worry about things like research and grammar and spelling and sentence structure. Until today where you have found me between a practice, a game and my son’s umpiring another game that starts in fifteen minutes. My husband just said “Hon,we are going to leave in about five minutes…right after the New York Giants make their pick!” I think there is some sort of draft going on for some other sport of which I have little interest.

I have been pondering the irony of owning a baseball blog and then having so little time to write on it because I am either watching baseball, reading about baseball, cleaning baseball uniforms and equipment, packing for baseball, driving to baseball, picking up from baseball, waiting for baseball to start, waiting for baseball to end, analyzing what just happened in baseball and what might happen tomorrow in baseball.

Breathe. Or don’t breathe. Just drive. Just throw the stuff in the back. Just ignore the parent who yelled “Hey! Is blue your SON? That ball went FOUL!” (More on that later). Make note of ridiculous behaviors to document here at a later time. Forget grammar and writing and any form of sanity. I have to leave for the game.

Cringe-worthy

 

“SWEAT DRIES.BLOOD CLOTS. BRUISES FADE AWAY. SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP. ONLY TOUGH GUYS PLAY BASEBALL.” the t-shirt for sale on this “Baseball Moms” Facebook page read.

And then another shirt, possibly even more horrifying :

“I NEVER DREAMED I’D BE A SUPER CUTE BASEBALL MOM BUT HERE I AM KILLING IT!”

Stop. Please stop now. Having been to several youth baseball tournaments I have seen a lot of baseball moms. Some carry baseball-themed totes with their team’s name embroidered on the side. Some pace the sidelines like a cheetah in captivity while others calmly watch the game. Some are screamers, some are braggarts, some are anxious, some are indifferent. But never could I imagine any of them wearing either of these ridiculous t-shirts.

Another post on this page showed a cute sign for a kid’s bedroom that read:

“To fall asleep, I count baseballs instead of sheep”

To which a commenter wrote:

“That is MY SON TOTALLY to the max all day every day baseball is all he thinks about and it is probably my fault because I have had him in tournament ball since he was 4.”

Gee, and we thought that 8u was young. Do they even have tournaments for 4 year olds?

And another sign that read simply:

“EAT. SLEEP. BASEBALL.”

To which a gramatically-challenged reader replied:

“Sounds about right don’t it Joni?”

Hey, by all means eat, sleep, baseball. We all do.

Just please don’t do it wearing one of those t-shirts.

There is Crying in Baseball

I am generally not a crier. Maybe it is my East Coast urban Irish-American coal mining roots, but you probably won’t catch me watching “The Notebook” or The Hallmark Channel.

Yesterday I was on a long drive alone returning from a trip to visit family in Upstate New York. “Have you left yet?” my husband texted. “Ten minutes.” I returned. “You are waiting for the game to start. :)” Oh, where would I be without you Sirius XM radio?

With a win against the Tampa Bay  Rays, the Baltimore Orioles became the only undefeated team in all of Major League Baseball. Wellll…its a longgggg season….come on now…only five games in in the AL East?…enjoy it now because… I don’t care. For just that moment, the team that is so often doubted, disrespected and disregarded – was on top. Who knows what the season will bring but for now, this patchwork of veterans and rookies and outcasts and superstars are coming out on fire.

Joe Angel, the play-by-play announcer on the Orioles Radio Network said his famous “And the Orioles are in the WINNN column!” and with that, the tears started flowing.

Baseball will do that to you.

Talk Softly, But Carry a Big Stick?

Last night  my son completed the umpire training program and he may now officially serve as an umpire this spring. The baseball director gave some parting advice at the end of the training. He said, “Remember, if someone gets in your face, it is a good idea to speak very quietly in order to calm them down,” and then added, “I did that last year and the guy just walked away and kicked over the Port-A-John.”

It is going to be an interesting season.