Sunday, February 23, 2014

Baseball Heaven: A Rebuttal; or, Maybe a Surrender

The first time I stepped out of a professional baseball stadium's cement labyrinthine underbelly and glimpsed the lush outfield grass I cried. I was about 13 and my church youth group had gone to Oakland to see the Tigers at the A's. Our seats were up so high I don't even think I could see the players' names pasted on the back of their uniforms. I don't know who won that day, I don't even remember if we stayed for the whole game, but I will never forget the way my chest constricted and how I just couldn't breathe when I saw that gorgeous field laid out before me. It was, to me, heaven.

My love of the green grass, wood bats, leather gloves, and that gorgeous red dirt is a feeling of reverent awe that never lessens and never fades. No matter how old I am, or how many games I have been to, I cry a little every time. It isn't about the stadium because it doesn't really matter where, it just matters that it is grass, chalk, dirt. Each of the (only) five stadiums I have visited it is the same. Every time I emerge from the dark into the light and there is nothing in front of me but green, and brown, and sky and I have to swallow gasps and blink back tears. I am moved every time, because it is just so beautiful.

I have a friend who has written a blog that claims that Wrigley Field is in fact "Baseball Heaven" and as I read her Ode to Wrigley I found myself wanting to argue. It could have been because she threw down the gauntlet by saying that my beloved Yankee Stadium is most definitely not Baseball Heaven, and that it isn't Fenway Park--my second favorite stadium--either, but that it is Wrigley. And I wanted to fire back. I wanted to write about how Wrigley is the aging diva of baseball; but, then I realized that I am not qualified to criticize. I haven't been to Wrigley. Or Great American Ballpark, or Busch Stadium, or Oriole Park... or any of the other 25 parks. I have only been to five. So, what do I know?

The truth is that any definition of Baseball Heaven is profoundly and distinctly personal. Every fan probably loves their stadium, at least in some way. For me, Yankee stadium was mecca. I toured it with my heart racing and a post-coital glow. Fenway Park was historic and wonderful, and I had a great time there. But, Oakland ( The name changes so much, I don't even know anymore) will always have a place in my heart. It's close and I've seen some really great baseball there. And, you know, no one ever forgets their first. It is an argument that can't be won. Like comparing lovers. Who am I to say? I don't have the credentials to rank stadiums; I don't have the experience to compare and contrast. And what makes one cat purr makes another hiss.

Baseball Heaven is not a place. It that space between the infield and the grass. That moment of silent tension right before the pitch, when players spring into ready position. That silent moment when we wait to see what will happen. That space where anything can happen. It is Derek Jeter methodically kicking rocks and smoothing the infield dirt while waiting to pounce. It is a cold drink on a hot day; it is listening to fans around me discuss past games. It is Nick Swisher wooing the crowd, and the crowd flirting back. It is a cotton candy vendor winning a dance off against a drunk fan. It is the sound of a ball on a bat, the thud of a leather, and the sight of green, and brown, and sky.  That to me, is Baseball Heaven.