Baseball is a writer’s dream. The game lives in the glow of a great author’s lamppost. No other contest provides such a luminescent canvas for ink, joy, and the elusive shadow of a youth bygone. You can see a younger version of yourself standing on the folded grass of a deteriorating memory. You become your own siren. Your own rogue wave. I’m not much of a writer, though I’ve been doing it for close to thirteen years. Over time the wick of romanticism fades, and the process becomes nothing more than moving words, back and fourth, like pallets in a warehouse.
No, I’m not the best person to describe baseball. Endless beat writers, novelists, and historians have that down. But, all the same, the game will always be smoke and mirrors to me – its true meaning not statistics or championships, but a calendar for the passing of friendships, relationships, and the christening of new ones. Baseball is a landscape, providing boxes to be ticked. It’s omnipotent, sad, boyishly optimistic. It’s stars and dirt. Nature and man. An old memory of your best friend’s smile. The embrace of a girlfriend. The shadow of your father. It’s one of the few things that is a carousel of both mystery and fact.
I remember Jack Murphy Stadium. The flair coming only from its dinged up seats and errant trash. The shell casings of eviscerated peanuts. Empty, floating beer cups. Game day giveaways. They all come back to me, carved into my stimuli like initials on a tree. Mother’s Cookies baseball cards. Tony Gwynn, always smiling. Andy Ashby, lanky as a marionette. Ken Caminiti, throwing from his wallet.
I remember the creases in the sheets like they were sand dunes. Party lights. Convenience store bottles of Ocean Spray and handles of plastic bottle vodka. Manny Ramirez and Big Papi. The belly of old taverns. A cat roaming in a dark underground bookstore as if he was traveling, alone, through the River Styx. Wakefield, his name. Boston Common, all litter and statues. Her face against mine, and two Red Sox seats waiting for us still.
Baseball comes to you at different times, and stays with you when it matters. It lives in you, and remembers your hopes. And that’s why it endures. Because of the smiles, the pain, and all of those miles on your sneakers. I thought of those times, as the new season approaches, and compiled a playlist of songs that make me remember all of that elation. All of those old kisses and distant friends.