This week has been a doozy. Today is my first day “off” in a week and my only one until next Monday. I wrote about my psychotic, not related to reality, issues with my body and unearthed the pretty well known fact that I am a woman that can birth babies but have chosen not to, on a very public forum. With that unleashing, I thought I would take it kinda easy this Monday and write about one of my favorite things in the world… baseball.
I wasn’t always a baseball fan. Growing up in my household, softball (and by proxy) baseball ruled our days. My older sisters (6, 8 and 10 years older) received the brunt of my father’s obsession. They would be forced to “play” outside in the warm months, pitching, catching pop flies or ground balls, hitting, bunting (my father’s favorite thing ever) and slide drills. In the winter they would get locked in the basement with the earliest version of the stationary bicycle in existence and a milage counter attached, and they were forced to “work out”. But my sly, ever rebellious sisters would hide Ho-Ho’s and other goodies in the Styrofoam ceiling and sit on the floor taking turns churning the pedals by hand. I “participated” in these activities, but as I was still pretty young, it wasn’t as dire- it wasn’t as vital- and I often got pushed aside while the “grown-ups” played. Then I became old enough. Then I was forced into the system. The Duffin Softball System.
You must understand I come from Softball Royalty. My late Aunt Becky was a Softball Pitching Dynamo. She revolutionized the windmill pitch, creating a push-off mechanism that used the legs and hips to propel the ball, thereby relieving the stress on the arm, so the legs could do the majority of the work. She worked with the female form and the differences in how our hips operate verses male hips and taught us little girls how to keep our hips back and open to allow a straighter follow-through. She was smart, funny, full of life and her and her roommate T. were some of my favorite people to hang out with. They had a jeep that they would let me shift on the highway. They had the COMPLETE collection of Calvin and Hobbes so I could sit in their living room surrounded by the comics while the adults played pinochle or they would sit and chat. I was much older (in high school), and she had unfortunately passed away by the time that I realized that her roommate T. was her lover and companion. The world of the 1980’s and the world of Christian Science that Becky believed in, didn’t really encompass the reality of their love.
But softball was a part of our family. The men played, the women played and the children were forced to play. My Aunt founded Duffin Fastpitch, teaching girls to pitch in the Missouri and Illinois area and after her death it was bequeathed to my father, but my sister and cousin also taught there. It was actually at my Aunt’s death and one of the last things she said to me and my cousin was to “Do what makes you happy. Don’t be something you’re not” (or something to that effect) that gave me “permission” to walk away from softball. It gave me “permission” to pursue Theatre, and Orchestra and all the nerdy things that I truly loved. It was also a life changing moment for my cousin, in ways that I admire and love, but that is her story for her blog.
At this time, I cut it out. All “ball” was cut from my life and I entered the world of theatre.
You may not know this- but I am from St. Louis. You may not know this- but St. Louis is the center of Cardinal Nation. You may not know this- but it is normal for schools in St. Louis to replay World Series Games during classes in October. You may not know this- but even if you are the most cynical of cynical hipsters that hate and loathe everything about professional sports (even if you can recite the stats of your favorite pinball master) and you live in St. Louis, you know who Molina, Carpenter and Stan Musial are. You may not know this- but YOU CAN’T GET AWAY FROM BASEBALL in St. Louis. It is in the air we breathe. The water we drink. People greet each other on Opening Day like others greet each other at Easter. It has risen- INDEED! Even in my hiatus from baseball, those dark ages of 1994-2002 I was still aware of our standings; if the Cardinals were in October; who was managing and what they were doing wrong. It helps that the sound of Cardinal Baseball fills the air around you. You hear the radio’s in the backyards, you see the TV’s at every establishment (not just bars) just in case it is the World Series- we all need to see it- even at the bakery. People talk about it to each other; strangers standing in line, neighbors over a fence, family members over every holiday- even in the off season. It permeates life in St. Louis and it is electrifying and magical. It is one of the best feelings in the whole world.
I love baseball. I FUCKING love baseball in St. Louis.
In Ken Burn’s Baseball, one of the commentators talks about the baseball season as particularly magical because it is a great comfort- “You don’t always have to watch the game, but you always know it’s there when you NEED to watch the game.” The comfort comes in the laziness interrupted by the spastic moments. The comfort comes in knowing that there is an extended amount of time that needs to be set aside, because the game could take 2 hours, it could take 6 hours, it could take 11 hours, it has that amazing potential to last days. The comfort comes with knowing a bridge that connects you with most people in this country, that you have a conversation starter wherever you are; “Where are you from?” “Oh, really- so are you a northsider or a southsider?” “I’m sorry man- you can’t chose where you were born.” Banter!
It’s magic lies in it’s simplicity: You catch the ball, you throw the ball, you hit the ball.
It’s magic lies in the smells, the sounds, the green of the grass.
It’s magic lies in it’s history and diversity: It was created in the big cities, as an oasis that allowed grown men to gather in streets and fields and saunter in the sun. It was nurtured in the grassy plains as a diversion from the hardness of drought and farm work. It was revolutionized in South America and the Caribbean, on gravel and dirt roads and sandy beaches as a beacon of hope and potential prosperity.
It’s magic lies in connectivity. I am forever connected to my Grandfather Willard, who passed when I was three, whom I have no memories of. Willard who taught his sons and daughters the gift of baseball so that they would grow up with names that are reminiscent of Robert (Bob) Feller, Stan (Stanislaw) Musial, and Roger (Rogers) Hornsby, players admired by Willard. Willard’s sons and daughters who would teach their sons and daughters the love of the game, so that family reunions would include a slowpitch afternoon with bbq porksteaks and potato salad. I am forever connected to decades of fans that had “their” World Series Win, and I’ve joined the pantheon that has had “their” Multiple World Series Wins. I am forever connected to Cardinal Nation, so that when I travel anywhere around the world, I see the STL on a red cap and I know I have a friend, someone I can trust and rely on…. or at least share a beer with while discussing toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake or Imos Pizza.
I owe this really to my husband. The first year we started dating he took me to my first baseball game as an adult. That season I went to 12 games with him. I wouldn’t buy any merchandise until I’ve been to 5 games, (a figure I demanded of myself) because I felt I needed to “earn my bones”. He gave me this gift of baseball again, and I’ve seen my relationship with my own father grow because of Roland’s gift. As we embark on our third season back in St. Louis, Roland and I have purchased 15 games, and are already in negotiations with groups of people that want to join us for some more games. Baseball is back in season, and already the beautiful sounds fill my ears as strangers ask each other: “What’s the score?” and someone is always available to give a count by count blow out of the last odd innings. Baseball in St. Louis, it is truly heaven.