Friday, October 8, 2010
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The last time Rick Ankiel, Edgar Renteria and I spent time together, we were all part of Cardinal Nation. They wore the Redbirds’ uniform; I was dressed in one of several Cardinal tee shirts, my traditional summer wardrobe for decades.
Tonight, we were together again at Game 2 of the National League Western Division playoffs, when the Braves beat the Giants 5-4 in the 11th inning. Renteria is now a Giant. Ankiel plays for the Braves. I live in San Francisco, and my Cardinals tee shirts are on a shelf in the closet.
What a game! Sandoval and Posey collided, Cox got thrown out for protesting an ump's call too vociferously, a batter got plonked and a pitcher dropped to the ground in pain. All 11 innings provided some excitement. In contrast, Thursday night’s game was all about Lincecum, the tough young pitcher who looks like a Goth skateboarder. The Giants won that one. 1-0, in a fast, business-like game.
“That’s the problem with post-season games,” I remarked at the small party I attended. “You pit the best against the best and everyone is so good that not much happens and the score stays low.” On the other hand, post-season play is full of passion, and occasionally there are exciting bench-clearing brawls. Also, the winning team tends to hop a lot after the last strike is called, and that’s always fun to watch.
I grew up listening to baseball -- not watching it. My dad and my grandpa were longtime Cardinal fans. On Sundays, my grandparents would come to our house for dinner. In summer, Daddy did the barbecuing while my grandpa worked in his vegetable garden in our big yard. The transistor radio was always tuned to the game. My job was to deliver beer to the two of them, and I often pulled up a lawn chair and listened to the games.
Those were the days when Bob Gibson pitched both games in a double header and thought nothing of it. Watching Lincecum pitch all nine innings Thursday night, I wondered if he knows that. (Bet he does.) Those were also the days when Daddy would crank up the grill on the Weber kettle as high as it would go, so the chicken was far from the fire.
“Joe,” my mom would call out from the kitchen door, “how’s that chicken coming along?”
“We’re only in the fifth inning, Bonnie,” he’d call back. “This chicken has a ways to go.”
I rooted for the Cardinals all through high school and college. When I married and had a child, the Redbirds and I drifted apart. Years later, when I was working as the restaurant critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, an editor sent me to the ballpark one night to taste the “new” food available there – quesadillas and turkey legs. In order to make my deadline, I could only stay for half the game, but I had a great seat, down in front.
In the batter’s box was a fellow named Mark McGwire, well-muscled poetry in motion. I sat there, a turkey leg and quesadilla growing cold, and watched the game. “I know baseball,” I thought. “I remember loving this game.”
Memories of my dad and my grandpa swept through me. I leaped to my feet and screamed right along with the crowd. From that night on, I was a born-again Cardinal fan. I even collected books on baseball, guided by Post scribe Bernie Miklasz. (My favorite is “The Glory of Their Times” by Lawrence Ritter. I’m also a big fan of Roger Angell’s writing.)
For a decade or so, I watched or listened to all the games (with Debbie and Bill or both Gails and also on my own), went to the stadium whenever anyone offered tickets and bought a new Cardinals shirt every season. More recently, I spent baseball season writing books, earning money to supplement my tiny pension. Once again, I lost track of the rhythm of the games.
This year, the Cardinals got little attention from me. I sold the condo at the end of April and moved in June. Oh, I saw a couple of games on television and tuned in on the radio from time to time. I even exchanged a few emails about whether Tony had actually smiled in the course of a game. But I was not engaged.
Moving, unpacking and settling in here all took time over the summer. A glorious rush of freelance work also rolled in, so leisure was at a premium. At last, I had finished all my assigned work and found myself waiting on new work. On Sunday, I watched the Giants beat the Padres, make it to the playoffs. Suddenly, I was hooked.
I’ve been to just one Giants game, several years ago here in San Francisco, when they played the Cardinals. We sat on the third-base line, where I did my best to singlehandedly cheer on Scott Rolen. I was wearing red, lots of red, in a sea of people clad in orange and black. They couldn’t see my red, because over it I had on a sweatshirt and a windbreaker.
At one point I turned to the man next to me, a man I had never met, and I said, “This is not how we do baseball in St. Louis. In St. Louis, we wear shorts and tee shirts and wrap bandanas around our heads and necks for sweat rags and we broil in the heat.”
“You think this is cold?” he asked, his words muffled by his orange and black scarf. “You should have been at games at Candlestick Park. Now, that was cold.” When Barry Bonds hit a home run, I stood up and applauded. The man next to me was impressed. “Hey,” I said, “we Cardinals’ fans know excellence when we see it.”
Now the excellent San Francisco Giants are battling to go the distance in post-season. I’m not ready to wear orange and black -- I had enough of that color combination at Webster Groves High School. But I am going along for the ride.