It’s one of those cosmic confluences: It’s Easter Sunday, and it’s the opening day of baseball season. Because I am a lapsed Catholic, I tend to mix a dollop of the profane with the holy. The Catholic Church has had a very bad spring training, and has come out swinging, but to this point, its batting average is plummeting. On the holy side, the beginning of baseball season—despite swollen-headed steroidal savages, astronomical salaries, and the fact that they’ve never rescinded the Designated Hitter rule—is a time of promise, the greenness of spring, that singular sound of ball on bat, the anticipation of glory before inevitable (perhaps only temporary) disappointment that allegiance to any team will bring.
Even though it’s the Damn Yankees opening up the season (I can’t ever forgive what they regularly used to do to my Dodgers a thousand years ago), the first games of spring are fragrant with memory and with fresh promise. When I was a child, after my initial fascination with dinosaur books, baseball books became my solace. I read widely, from statistical gleanings of the Baseball Encyclopedia (proudly, the heaviest book I owned) to biographies (the tale of Jimmy Piersall’s madness, fascinating and frightening) to novels, Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural, The Southpaw.
The Sweet Soulfulness of Baseball Writing
Baseball writing is a long, soaring, majestic fly ball better than other sports writing (see any of Roger Angell’s work), because it often reaches back to its long history, its heros before this era of taint, but also because so many us played the game, whether on the street where we were raised (yes, for me) to Little League (yes) to the slackness and beer-fed, bumpy infields of company softball leagues (yes). It’s hard not to imagine yourself up at the plate, waggling your rump and digging in with your spikes before you embarrass that pitcher’s flat slider by ratcheting it into the gap for a stinging double. Of all the sports, to be a hero in the summer sun waxed most lyrical. My love of reading about baseball (and playing it) shaped the diamond of my writing interest.
When I was 13, I had a five-foot high poster of Willie Mays in my bedroom, flanked by a five-foot high poster of Jimi Hendrix. (Jimi might not have been able to hit a curve, but he could flutter a note like the best of the knuckleballers.) It was a damning contradiction that I had a poster of Mays, since the hated Giants were the storied rivals of the Dodgers, but dealing with contradiction is a fine exercise in focus and grappling with ambiguity.
Moments ago, I just got out my glove (I haven’t played organized softball for a couple of years, but I’m ready when the fat contract comes) and pounded the ball in the pocket to smell that ineffable scent of spring. So, Easter Sunday. Baseball season. Let’s remember the fallen as well as the risen. Let’s write well, with long sentences chunky with subordinates and compounds, like the improbable path of an inside-the-park home run ball, and let’s also write flinty and fast, like a Koufax high, hard one only smelled, not seen—a one-word declarative sentence. Yes! Play ball!
Oh yeah: the marshmallow Peeps, if you were lucky (?) enough to get any this Easter. Listen, you really should eat them once in a while, to remind yourself that the world has produced truly strange substances improbably intended for ingestion. Approach them as something exotic, like sushi once was. But if you can’t bring yourself to risk ingesting them, try microwaving them: they expand into huge, oozing sponges. It’s science! It’s fun!