Like most baseball cities, the ball park sits in a sketchy part of town and that is where I am heading. The streets become dirtier, newspapers on the sidewalk, empty lunch wrappers, bottles, cigarette butts. I do not have the benefit of GPS or a map so I follow the general direction south veering west from time to time on back streets and alleys. Eventually I emerge onto a wider street. I am now on the southwest corner of Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Looming up, up, and up before me is the left field fence – called in baseball circles, the Big Green Monster. I don’t know why I wanted to see it so badly. The history of it maybe? This is the same ball park Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, and Ty Cobb played in.
I played baseball as a kid. I loved the sport. The uniforms, the high stirrup socks, the long sleeve under shirt contrasting the color of the uniform shirt, the ball cap shaped just right, the heavy leather glove on my left hand, the sure feel of the cleats upon my feet. The sounds – oh the sounds – leather popping leather as the ball hits the glove during the warm up. The crack of the ball against ash or aluminum. The chatter of the players, the restlessness of the crowd in the stands, the lineups being announced on the speaker; the thump of cleated feet running across the earth. The smells! The smell of freshly cut grass, clay, hot dogs and popcorn, the smell of fresh autumn air, the smell of the leather in my glove. I loved playing at night. All of these things and at night, I trot out of the dugout to my position at second base or in center field, under the lights, in a fish bowl, everyone watching. Half watching to see us succeed, half watching to see us fail. During the game I am constantly thinking. As a kid, in happier times, Dad and I would watch the Cincinnati “Big Red Machine” play on television. Always the coach, Dad would ask me what should happen given a certain situation in the game.
“Man at 3rd, 1 out, ball is hit to you at second. What do you do?”
“Look the runner back at 3rd, quick throw to 1st. Be thinking about the throw to first all the time.”
I think through all the scenarios with every pitch. What am I going to do if I get the ball? It is total immersion into something outside of myself. I am a part of the game.
This is what I am thinking about now. Standing outside Fenway Park looking up at the Big Green Monster. I miss those happy days.