I will have to mark Tuesday, May 4, 2010, as the start of the second half of my life.
The one without an external narrator, an easy pace, the knowledge there was always somewhere you could return to and find a universal order still in place.
That place? 760 on the AM dial. Tiger Baseball. Ernie Harwell.
I am not a traditional baseball fan. I can’t cite statistics, or tell you who was pitching at the first professional game I went to. There’s a big hole in my awareness of how the Tigers did during, oh, a decade or two, and I can’t blame ALL of that on the strike.
No, I can't blame the strike. I never was a true fan. Couldn't argue strategy, didn't store trivia and stats in my head. But I grew up with baseball.
Baseball in the car, almost as far as you could drive in a day. Magically, farther when you drove at night. Baseball in the background at my grandparent’s house, either on the television in the family room, or on the kitchen radio if the family room had been declared “for family” that night.
Baseball in your play, kids pulling up outside your door, on bikes, telling you “everybody’s going to the park to play a game.” You could go with them right away, or join in a little bit. Game would start in 10 minutes. Which meant if you wanted any say in your position, you’d be there before then.
Baseball in the family, Sunday mornings driving to a baseball diamond to watch your dad play in a casual softball league.
Here in this blog there’s been much talk of May flowers. In my youth, there was another way to mark the arrival of spring--the first warm of day spring meaning you turned your closet inside out so you could find your glove, which hopefully still fits, but even if it doesn’t, is going to be an improvement over bare-handed catch. A guaranteed sore arm the next day.
Baseball season marked the rhythm of nature’s seasons and the school year, building a bridge between the last weeks of going to class and summer vacation. Baseball was what connected houses and businesses and picnic blankets as you rode your bike around...somebody always had the game on. Sure, it’s a cliche, but asking “How about those Tigers?” was an easy social bridge in conversation.
Baseball was both activity and ambience, something to schedule and something that just was.
So much so that when I read “The Old Man and the Sea,” and the old man talks to the narrator about “Los Tigres de Detroit” (see? even Hemingway, even in Cuba... Santiago says “how ‘bout those Tigers...”), and the old man takes his radio out to check on baseball, I know what he’s talking about. I know the rhythm of what he’s hearing, and I even know the voice he is hearing.
He hears Ernie Harwell.
Baseball defining the rhythms of a year, and years passing.
“A sa-wiiing and a miss...”
From the time the lilacs bloom to the putting to bed of the annuals, a lilting voice would mark time in nine-inning segments. Kids calling out to each other, long drawn out first names through screen doors like some sort of non-linguistic call to prayer. Cracks of bats, and the taste of dirt in your mouth even if you were just watching on t.v.
All of this in my head, and I don’t consider myself a fan of baseball.
It permeates my conscious, and my unconscious, as much as my Grandmother’s perfume and the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.
I hadn’t actually heard Ernie call a play in many a year. He retired in 2002, but I stopped keeping track of the box scores and sitting down for at least a few innings long before that.
"That one went into the seat of a fan from Ludington..."
Perfume? For today, let's just call it a surprise pitch in the top of the 5th.
The inside door was open yesterday. It was beautiful out. Homework would have been delayed, bikes would have been out, bats would have been cracking at the park. Friends would be calling from the sidewalk.
Fall will be here soon enough. It always is.
1970's Topp's baseball cards here at PropertyRoom.com