Batter Up!

Pennant fever has hit Chicago but it’s snowballs that fly high and hard. April Fools Day and, no joke, I’m shoveling the basepaths. I sweep snow from my front porch—the umpire dusting off home plate.  I chip ice from my front steps—the slugger knocking mud from my cleats. I pull my stocking cap over my ears—the better to hear, through noise-canceling earbuds, the book, Baseball: A Literary Anthology.”

Ballplayers and spectators from my book become my neighborhood home team.  The female fan with the voice of a pig caller is Martha shouting for her boy to scrape ice from her windshield.  The awkward and earnest batboy is Chuck’s kid fetching the snow shovel for his dad.  The Cubs fan bent under a century of hardship is all of us contending with this unforgiving climate.

My neighborhood players are caricatures drawn by the book’s writers: witty James Thurber, gritty Nelson Algren and prosaic John Updike, Poets Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore translate lyricism from the game to the spoken word to my team.  Even cigar-puffing sportswriters exhale eloquence.

While some assert that sports is a waste of time and baseball is the dullest sport of all, I find that whatever evokes beautiful writing possesses inherent drama and value.  The beauty I hear is writers describing the view, the scene, the blue, the green. For me, the visual game faded decades ago.  Now, I see when I hear how marshmallow bases dot the milk chocolate infield, how cumulus clouds race eastward over sailboats on Lake Michigan.

With winter’s snowy reprise, baseball seems a season away.  But under today’s white carpet lies tomorrow’s green field.   I’ll be ready with my low tech transistor radio tuned to WLS and WSCR. Until that day, I’ll learn from my anthology how baseball proves F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy” as John Updike recounts the nine inning finale between the prideful Ted Williams’s and the Fenway fans who loved and hated their Hall of Famer.

 

[Baseball: A Literary Anthology, edited by Nicholas Dawidoff, is an audio book available from NLS, catalog number DB 55681]

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