On Baseball at Midsummer
Funny how it comes back to you, why you love things. It’s of course because of the miraculous nature of those things. I was forcibly reminded of this–metaphorically kicked in the head–last night at a senior league double-header at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
I had been in class at the University of Maine all day. I had ended the afternoon by giving a presentation, one which had originally been scheduled for Monday but was derailed by a technological implosion (another story for another time). Ironically, the presentation was about my innate horror at having to give presentations; so needless to say, I was beat. A colleague in my class promised me that the rains would come at 4:37, in plenty of time to force a postponement; and as John claims to be the Absolute Ruler of the Free World, I was hoping I could count on his prediction of torrential downpours and ferocious lightning strikes which would preclude 15- and 16-year-old boys standing out in the open with metal bats. Add to this the complications of getting said 15-year-old boy from 20 miles south of Bangor while I was coming from the north, and you might surmise that I was hardly in the mood for six hours of baseball.
I am a scorekeeper. Because of my innate inability to successfully practice anything requiring physical coordination, I learned long ago that to be a participant in team sports, I had to learn to keep track, in the smallest possible spaces, of the events of a game. This has led to my becoming, in my adult life, the bookkeeper for various and sundry of the heathens’ teams (they can play–they are much better at everything than I am). It has come to the point where their coaches no longer ask, but simply hand me the book when I show up. Thus I was expected at Mansfield. It was overcast and humid when I got there, and the air smelled like rain.
Still, the Shawn T. Mansfield Stadium is a beautiful facility. Built by Stephen and Tabitha King (yes, that Stephen King) and donated to the city of Bangor, it is the home field for all the senior league teams from Bangor, and is the host field for the Senior League World Series, held in August. These are, for those inexperienced in Little League matters, teams of boys of 15 to 17 years; and this is the first year my son Ben has played at this level. I’ve known most of these boys on Ben’s team for several years, however, as they’ve grown up together, playing either with or against one another. Occasionally, when Sebasticook Valley teams have gone up against Bangor teams, they’ve had the opportunity to play on this fantastic field, under the lights.
So I sat on the steps at the far corner of the dugout, keeping tiny notes, attempting not to listen to the boys as they made gross jokes and gross noises. The skies glowered through the first seven-inning game, which Sebasticook lost by one. As the second game drew on, the skies grew steadily darker and the lights came on; under them, the grass somehow blazed even greener, the base paths redder. The crack of the bats and the thuds of balls in mitts became mysteriously more pronounced. I felt the peculiar baseball contentment steal over me, a feeling that anyone who loves the game will recognize. There’s a rightness about baseball that’s impossible to convey unless you’re a fan. Sitting on the concrete at the corner of the dugout, I felt connected to this game, and to the games going on in other towns, in other cities–other Little League games, other Major League games, other sandlot games. I thought of the night I flew to Knoxville from Pittsburgh, in a small plane and low enough to see the green diamonds as the evening drew on and the lights sprang on, and how I recognized them from the air as emeralds on a string across the country. I felt then the same wonder and magic that W. P. Kinsella wrote about in “The Thrill of the Grass” and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy and Shoeless Joe. I felt that same thing again last night. My boy–my boys–were part of the magic. They were part of the reality, but part of the myth as well. As the scorekeeper, I was the recorder of that miracle.
Any true fan will recognize this scene. And understand what it means.
Sebasticook lost the first game of the double-header to the Bangor team in the grey uniforms, 5-4. They won the second game against the maroon uniforms, 11-9.