Throwing Out the First Pitch

Page 2

The big question for many of you is how and when did I get here. Well, I got here late, and I've been jumping in, deeper all the time, since 1984 or so. It began as a peripheral pursuit, another mote of excellence I was glancing at now and then, in the form of a young and monstrous pitcher named Dwight Gooden. Understand, there have been similar sidelong pursuits in myriad realms, and a list of names and subjects could meander on for pages... but this baseball thing, it was viral, it really grabbed me. Its growing influence overlapped a time when my successes in the publishing world had built to a frenzy, reared up, and crushed me with a swift bombardment of medical and financial chaos. This downfall came in '89. By then my interest in The Game had become rather intense by most estimates, but it was really nothing compared to where I live now.

I think that it was the only leisure-time obsession that could have possibly replaced the enormous room I had built in myself for the creative life. Baseball has such a deep tradition of art, literature, mythology, history, journalism, humor, and folklore, and I found it an easy solace to replace my dreams deferred. And now, nearly five years later, I credit it with a good measure of my hard-won contentment.

My past experiences with it had been sporadic at best—I was not your normal life-long fan. It began for me in my early teens and came to fruition in the summer of my 15th birthday. It was 1968, the year of the pitcher, when Bob Gibson of the National League St. Louis Cardinals posted an unreal 1.12 earned run average and Denny McLain, the ace of my American League Detroit Tigers, racked up 31 wins. I remember that summer. I spent those warm nights discovering high drama. Huddled on the Weber's front porch with my fellow Tiger fans, our eyes wide and expectant, Ernie Harwell announcing: "Stee-rike three called, and he stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by..."; or in bed with the covers yanked tight over my head, the transistor radio cackling hysterically into my cheek, my pal Orion in the southeastern sky shooting arrows at the opposing team; or kicking up clouds of hot brown dust at Berst Field, drinking the perfume of leather and wood, imagining what it must be like to be one of those heroes. There were worlds of suspense in every pitch, heart-stopping possibilities in every detail of the unfolding topography of each game, explosions of excitement and mayhem in every crack of the bat. It was the best summer of my childhood, ending, as it did, with every kid's dream-come-true: my Detroit Tigers won the World Series, and, since I had represented them so loyally to my corner of the world, I had also won.

And then, I missed 20 years or so.

I literally paid no attention whatsoever. You know it was the late sixties and synapses and the relativity of the senses and literature and women and the like became more imposing to me. During this time I might glance at the box scores once every seven weeks, often less, and I'd recognize a name or two but it had all moved past me, I had moved onto trails that led me to other fields than those where ball was played, and I think that in retrospect I'm glad for it. I missed the birth of that travesty they call the designated hitter, I missed a time when baseball followed the rest of the world down a darkening aesthetic tunnel that valued fashion (read: passing fad) over style, (which is eternal.) So the uniforms they wore in those days... Montreal wearing clown-suits; San Diego displaying various hues of top-soil; the bumble-bee Pirates; the horrible White Sox 6" horizontal stripes and bulky block letters and the Astros like some horrific garish sunset and my god it all looked so offensive—No visual sense whatsoever. I can't even stand to look at baseball cards from that era, they reflect it so well. And this is the only way I can cope with the fact that I missed the unique narratives of nearly twenty seasons: But hey I was too obsessed for too long with too many other things I had no time for fun and games I was busy being a depressed financially-challenged artist I.

Woe is me I would exclaim were it not for these kinds of sturdy defenses.

Then what happens? In '83 I read about Dwight Gooden, this young comer's got a 98 mph fastball and a curve what drops off the edge of the world and I start to give him a bit of my attention. Just a bit. And a bit more in '84 when he arrives and wins Rookie of the Year and breaks the rookie record for strikeouts with 276 and I do love to watch people excel, no matter what they're doing. In '85 he wins the Cy Young Award and in '86 he goes to the World Series and I'm just beginning to feel diseased. In '87 I start watching regularly and in '88 I follow religiously and in '89 I'm sucking it through a straw and in '90 I'm nuts, gone, lost and it's worse every year which just makes it better. Like everything else, right?

"A man doesn't learn to understand anything unless he loves it." —Goethe, 1749-1832

And so I agree with that, and it is why I'm here, with this. BB and the 10,000, which would make a way-cool name for a blues band or something, is the place where I intend to try to figure out, possibly with your help, whether or not there is some way to learn or teach or... I am looking for words... I think it was Mark Twain, someone please correct me if I'm wrong, who said that though humankind has declared that its intellect is what distinguishes it, it is really difficult to find people who are interested in proving this. Most of them tend to be content with being bright monkeys, rather than aspirant and brilliant human beings. So I know many of the reasons why this is so, but I am wondering whether or not there is a cure, or some help, or a form of talking about it that might snare folks who are unsatisfied, even though they may not know it.

If all one has lived in all one's life are "little houses made of ticky-tacky," then how to give them glimpses of the mansions and castles and skyscrapers they've never entered?

My need here stems from two sources. The first is totally selfish: that I'm looking to sharpen my world-view, my epistemology. To hold it up, test it, talk it out and see where it hangs, turn by turn, strong or transparent. So I'm asking anyone who's interested in more than the presumed entertainment value of this, to talk to me. About Baseball, about moral imperatives, about great books and films I need to eat, about who's going to make it to the Series this year, about charmed quarks and chaos theory and genetic mapping and ALL of it, what Samuel Beckett calls "THE BIG BUZZING BLOOMING CONFUSION OF THE WORLD."

The second is not selfish, just crazily idealistic. I constantly run into people who dismiss encounters with the unfamiliar with disdain: "that's weird" or "what's that?" if this commentary based in unknowing were the last word. Dismissal. I want to know why. Is it a hedge against embarrassment in the face of the new? How is it that these kinds of missed connections, these sounds of cultural and social illiteracy, are seen as normal and acceptable? I keep thinking that there must be a way to reach people in everyday life with info that actually works on them, that begins or facilitates change—opens avenues of interest, encourages empathy and compassion and open-mindedness. Magic Words—you overhear someone making naive remarks ferinstance, and you have in your possession a talent for giving pause to such a person, saying "Hey, look... let me explain something to you that you may not have considered before..." and a kind of calm, reasoned, precise, and ABSORBABLE train of thought takes firm hold of them and actually causes a shift to occur. "Fingers gripping [the] brain," sings poet Tony Moffeit. So the receiver needs to be in a state of readiness? An opening in the mind? A crumb of flexibility? A hint of interest in becoming someone better, in ascendancy? In handing a tad less of a mess to the next generation? I want to know whether or not people whose potentials have been limited can be brought out.


In the meantime, I'm also preoccupied with Ken Griffey Jr. and his promise as maybe the greatest center-fielder of our time or any other. And will Tom Waits tour soon? Will Juan Gonzalez be the next to hit 500 homeruns? Where will the next campaign of genocide erupt? And will the New York Mets at least avoid making fools of themselves this year? Will Europe build the next generation of particle accelerator now that the U.S. government has whacked funding to the Texas supercollider? How many games will I get to this year, and in what cities? When will Thomas Harris finish his next book? If I'm 40 now, how many seasons do I have left? And might I come to a place where, on the day that my light fades, I'll bow with a smile of contentment, thinking: Yes, I have recognized this world...

"Deep in the consciousness of a large percentage of Americans is an anti-intellectualism almost sinister in its manifestations, an emotional distrust of the human mind whenever it functions above the twelfth-grade level. Our only half-concealed contempt for or indifference to the operations of scholars and teachers has brought them into disrepute. How can we help being dismayed when we learn from a recent survey that six out of ten Americans hadn't read a book—not a single book—in the preceding year?"

—Claude M. Fuess, Saturday Review, 2/1/58

I'm sorry, I forgot where I am...

Next Page BB10K Homeplate Home Page © 1994 Rick Lopez