"Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand."
Leo "The Lip" Durocher
“Baseball is like church. Many attend but few understand.”
SO WHO SAID IT FIRST? DOES IT MATTER? Or...why are you a whiny jackoff?
I used to have a fastball. Clocked at 87 miles-per-hour once or twice, it was no ticket to fame, but not bad for a lanky teenager. It used to dive under the mitts of catchers and rise enough to cause Major League scouts to cause notice when they spied my High School stats. I threw crooked and left-handed and struck out a lot of country boys in the sunlight and under bad lighting on dirt fields. Meanwhile, I learned to drink rank lager out of cans along gravel roads and sometimes on the next day, I’d pitch again, sore arm or not.
I threw a no-hitter the day after prom night my junior year. I remember the second baseman pounding OJ and groaning in the seat across from me in the bus that Saturday morning, bitching about his weariness, his hangover, the sun and the noisy-ass bus. I could be wrong, but I think he went three-for-four that day and we won in five innings.
He wasn’t bitching and moaning on the ride home. I remember that for sure.
We rode home giddy and cocky and goofy as fuck.
When I was in Little League, we only played a dozen or so games a summer. I had nothing to do but keep score during the KMOX broadcasts of Cardinals games when they were agonizingly close to first-place, but never there in the end. I’d spazz out in my bedroom amidst posters of Kenny Reitz, Ted Simmons, Bob Gibson and other out-of-town legends such as Johnny Bench and Willie Mays, bouncing balls off the walls and diving around to test my agility and ability while Lou Brock stole base after base, free agency took effect in the Major Leagues and I busied myself in between pitches. Occasionally, the games would show on television and I’d watch with my Dad, who turned me onto the history of the game by showing me around a board and dice game called Strat-O-Matic. I could manage the ’74 Cardinals and test my luck against the ’54 Giants or the ’27 Yankees, managed by my father. We played catch and he threw me batting practice and took me to games at Busch Stadium. We would be there in time to enter as soon as the gates opened and stay for the last pitch, often waiting outside the clubhouse doors to gather autographs. Every loss was agonizing to me. I was only a frustrated fanatic.
I rode along on bus trips with the high school team when I was a little dude and Dad was the coach. I liked the sound of spikes on concrete and the rattling of the wood bats in the canvas bag…the pop of the mitt, the crack of the bat, the smell of Atomic Balm, the sign language between coaches and players and grass-stained baseballs. I liked the different consistencies of dirt and the relief of water when my mouth was dry and my face was covered in dust after a long ride on gravel roads with the windows down.
Baseball is a sensory experience. It stings, it burns, it aches, it itches and it sings with adrenalin in your veins when your motions fit with the poetry of the game. When you kick it, drop it, throw it away or in the dirt, swing and miss it or pop it up, it hits you in the gut worse than Montezuma’s revenge. The agony of defeat is real. I prefer getting nutted by a bad hop to the feeling following a loss that I could’ve prevented. But I prefer both of those feelings to getting upset while watching from the sidelines. Especially when it is the fate of a bunch of millionaires hanging in the balance.
If you give a shit, the game will take all you got and throw it right back in your face, sometimes in the form of dirt, crow, humiliation and disgust. Other times, though, you get something back that was worth the blisters, wind sprints, shin splints and strawberries. My desire to master the game was enough to get me out of the cornfields and into a university. When it all ended at the end of my junior year in college, my pitching elbow fucked with tendonitis, I was a lost soul for years, but I still knew that life was worth a lot of physical pain when you get to the other side of achievement. Over twenty years later, I struggle to understand what life is like for those who don’t bother to bust out of inertia. I love the comfort of a good rut. Don’t get me wrong. Coasting, gliding, piggybacking, oh yeah---that’s good stuff, too. I’ll even admit to some corner-cutting and half-assing from time-to-time. I learned a lot about those methods while enduring certain days of practice when I wasn’t feeling well, or was nursing a sprain or a strain. I also learned that if you play through a little bit of pain, your mind will adjust and you can get the job done. Then you’ll be in a better place while your muscles burn and your back aches. The skunkiest, pisswater beer tastes all right in a place like that, but if you don’t want one of those hangovers, drink the good stuff. Pain does not always lead to gain. Sometimes it leads to suicide and bad poetry.
Which leads me to an important point: getting rid of the pain of fun gone stale. The hangover is an unfortunate side effect of laziness. Yes, you have to drink and maybe smoke and avoid drinking healthy amounts of water to achieve the existential dread of the hangover, but laziness only prolongs its power. Do you enjoy being the whiny bitch or groaning loner after every night at the pool hall, wedding reception, wine-soaked book club meeting? I’ll be honest, I do good work while hungover and enjoy long bouts of solitude, so I don’t avoid hangovers. From my observations, though, most of you are different, so here is some advice: get some exercise. A brisk walk will re-oxygenate you body and pump out the poison. Drink lots of water. It will never taste better. A run or bike ride evict the demons. Soon you will feel like as if you are truly living. That is only the effect of some tricky chemicals in your brain. You will still be the same cog in the belly of the beast, but it will feel much better once you’ve rejuvenated yourself and are able to face reality. In other words, fuck the game, don’t let the game fuck you! Get up and do something about it and be ready for next time. These sound like mad exhortations of a meth-addled wrestling coach, but their reasoning is sound and worth carrying out.
Of course, there is the realm of pleasure in the sack to relieve your aching brain. May favorite way to spend a day after a night of fun is to fill it with more fun. Get friendly with a leisurly hedonist who absolutely has to have two things in the morning: sex and food. Blow off class or work or and class and get to it as soon as you wake up. Nothing like it, Folks: the windows open and the sounds and breezes lowing in over your two-backed beast---its visit lasting until it is time to visit your favorite wok, bistro, pub, tavern or diner. A workout following chow! Good living, for sure, especially considering that a shower and more of the good stuff are excellent appetizers and deserts. Of course, that is the advantage of leisure and many of you bolt upright to the sound of his or her alarm clock, too late to enjoy such mornings, but you've got to do something to jettison the malaise and madness. Let them run off to work if they have to or get the hell away from them if they can't or won't perform in the morning (or afternoo
Here is a vision of your future should you skirt the world of physical exertion: you may well stop drinking.
I know, that sounds crazy, though many around you are crazy enough to practice abstinence and are being coaxed into such behavior by lots of advertising and a kazillion-dollar-a-year drug industry, not to mention an all encompassing police state. So barring something obscene and deadly such as going dry, you might become one of those folks who is enamored with computer games, statistics, and lo-cal deserts. You’ll suffer gastric difficulties due to stress from watching sports for its results without any regard for the beauty of the game itself. You’re anxiety will be heightened by your appetite for tri-caffeinated cans of death which you will sometimes cut with vodka so that you don’t strangle the idiot you’re dating. OR! Or, you could possibly become so devoured by the cult of fantasy leagues that well…let’s not go there.
Yes, many favor delusions and illusions to rational thought and following a path of reason. Some speak of unicorns and Santa Claus. They drink the “blood of Christ”and go home to bleed internally over a sports event without any regard for the beauty of the game itself. A morning will come when you realize you are one of the numbnuts you used to hate: that frustrated fanatic who screams at the TV.
Believe me. It’s true. C’mon, you can save those activities for when you’re doped up on state-ordered soma in some geriatric hovel.
Don’t say no! Enjoy the nightlife and physical activity while you can. The stress will kill you before a little sensory stimulation…and if you do find yourself in need of a good, drying out spell, you’re going to need to sweat that out with some good, outdoor huffing and puffing, if not a little heave-ho!
If you can stand to get out of bed, that is.
Previously published in 52nd City’s SPORTY issue, July, 2007