Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maybe Baseball Isn't Over

About a month ago I wrote a commentary (reprinted below) for National Public Radio about the end of the baseball season which was used on “All Things Considered.”

I didn’t expect much of a reaction – okay, I didn’t expect ANY reaction. I thought it was okay, but nothing special.

Yet as writers, once the words escape us, we know we are not in control and cannot foresee their impact.

Some people hated the commentary, finding it too syrupy, but others – and from what I could tell, a lot of others - really liked it. A minister used it in a sermon, surely a first for anything I have ever written. And one man wrote me that “. . . it really hit home. My dad passed away last year and the end of a season is a reminder of the end of life… and after the mourning… life starting anew.”

And then there was June. I received an e-mail from a woman named June who said that the commentary moved her to tears and that she wanted to send me a painting.

I was touched, but also embarrassed. I didn’t want her to go out of her way over something that took all of about twenty minutes to write and took up about three minutes of air time on NPR. So I tried to talk her out of it, but she was persistent.

Well, here’s the painting at the top of this post. It arrived yesterday I love it. And here’s the commentary that somehow inspired it:


Baseball is over again and - for a while - so am I.

As long as I can remember this game has been my companion. The maple trees in the backyard where I grew up were known only as first base, second and third. The clothesline was an imaginary Green Monster. I fell asleep each night to the static of a distant game on an old radio and dreamed of the roaring crowd. Even now, when I think of “home” I don’t think of a house. I think of the bare spot I wore in the grass while batting, the place I ran back to after every imaginary home run.

Now another season is ending. As the sounds that only baseball makes disappear, there is a stillness left behind that feels like nothing else, and I know again I am alone.

The days that used to start with stats and coffee turning cold as I perused the blogs and box scores are done. The morning doesn’t mean it’s time to “check the west coast scores.” It means “get up and go to work.” The news is not for highlights and home runs, but wars and famines and politics. The walks I took with the dog so I could throw the ball and pretend I was cutting down the lead runner at third become simple games of fetch. The phone calls with friends that started with “Can you believe that hit?” and “What was he thinking?” end quickly or aren’t made at all. I turn my car radio from AM back to FM. My wife and daughter control the television remote and I catch up on my reading. And instead of lying awake at night and wondering how in the world he could miss that pitch, I slip into a fast slumber.

It’s over, but we’ve been through this before, baseball and I, and I’m sure I’ll survive the winter soon to come. I know even as the whoops and hollers of baseball’s newest world champion fade that somewhere in the silence that follows, another season will start to make its sound.

There will be trades, Tommy John surgeries and free agent signings for too much money. Even though there will be snow upon the ground, there will also be talk about pitchers and catchers reporting, aging veterans and rookie phenoms. Something deep inside me will start to stir, and then I’ll hear it again; a voice on a playground, a bat meeting a ball, a cheer and a slap on the back. At first it will be faint and far off, but as the days get longer the sounds of baseball will be back beside me. Soon enough, we will both be ready for another season.

[Note: the version of the commentary reproduced above varies slightly from the broadcast version. You can listen to it here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=141789780&m=141881232 . Glenn Stout’s latest book is the bestselling Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year.]

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