Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Take me out to the ball game
The Phillies are going to the World Series. This is thrilling. Not really because it means much in the grand scheme of life, mind you. But in this moment in my life, it is huge.
Baseball means different things to different people -- and I think you either love it or you hate it. I mean, really, it's boring and slow. But there is no other game in the world that can change so quickly, in which one small error can be the difference between winning or losing. I don't think there's any other game, either, that carries such nostalgia and sentimentality.
I grew up on baseball. Literally. The whole time I was growing up, my dad was a coach for a nationally ranked high school baseball team. When I was really young, in addition to coaching, my dad played on two softball teams. Looking back from a mom-wife perspective, I'm not sure how my parents remained married -- him off coaching and playing while my mom did all the schlepping of two young children -- but from a kid's perspective, it was great: my spring afternoons and evenings were spent rolling down the grassy hill next to the field, eating water ice in the stands, cheering as dad's players scored another run or, even better, when dad whacked the softball beyond the centerfielder's head. (A serious piece of dad wisdom I carry with me to this day: If you can't run fast, you better hit it hard.)
Baseball was on the TV a lot when we were kids, or on the radio. The sound of Harry Kalas's voice calling a game still sends me back. When I was a child I wanted to be the first female major leaguer. And today, really, I can imagine no better job in the world than to be a professional baseball player. Of course as I got older, my fantasies revolved around becoming a baseball wife -- is there anything sexier than a man in a baseball uniform?
The last time the Phils got this far into fall ball, it was 1993. In the spring, I was a senior in high school; in the fall I was a freshman in college. In between, I was a rabid Phillies fan. That summer was one of the most exciting, hopeful, happy times of my life -- for many reasons of course. But that's all somehow wrapped up in my brain in a Phillie Phanatic suit.
One of the most excellent afternoons of my young life was the day of my HS graduation. Ater rehearsal a bunch of us hopped on the train, then the subway, to see an afternoon Phillies game. They played their arch-rivals, the Braves, that day, and completely lit'em up in the 7th inning. We had planned to leave the game early to get home with plenty of time to get ready for graduation, but we ended up staying through all the excitement -- I still get goosebumps remembering 40,000 people doing that tomahawk chop to mock the Braves pitchers -- and we didn't get home until about 20 minutes before the ceremony started. My mom literally threw my dress over my head as I chugged down some water and ran out the door. I delivered my salutatorian speech with a fiercely sunburned forehead, the roar of the crowd lingering in my ears, and the smell of cotton candy still in my nose. It rocked.
I worked in an ice cream shop that summer, and we played the games on the radio. We ran specials (unknown to the owner) every time the Phils scored. And it was cheaper to go to a game at the Vet and sit in the nosebleed section than it was to go to a movie, so my friends and I went to a lot of games. We'd sit so far away you could barely see the ball leave the pitcher's hand, but we'd laugh and eat peanuts and start the wave in our own little section. Pure fun.
So anyway, baseball means a lot to me, especially Phillies baseball. It's summer and friends and happy, simple times. It's my dad and my childhood. It's sunshine and ice cream and silliness.
And cheering for the hometown team in a championship brings people together in a way that nothing else can. Right now especially, at a time when I often feel overwhelmed by so many adult responsibilities and anxieties, it's nice to have something so simple to get excited about.