Bases Loaded

Holy crap! This post is older than my children. Twice! Anyway, in honor of  Twins Opening Day, here you go:

I have always hated baseball. The standing around. The body-part scratching. The throwing and catching. Goofy socks.

There are so many ways to ridicule the game of baseball it’s difficult to choose where to start. Difficult, but not impossible.

As a kid whose parents were from South America, I grew up thinking fútbol was far superior. This despite the fact that neither my parents nor my Argentine relatives cared any more about fútbol than they cared about bais-bol. My parents considered it a sport for thugs. My mom worried about head injuries and tackling. Also drugs (Maradona, cocaine, etc.).

So I made a point of treating our national pastime with contempt. I decried it as a non-sport. It required no physical fitness, like golf or chess. It was the most poorly designed of  sports, in my mind, because the rules were strange and arbitrary and often self-conflicting.

So when the time came in gym class or on the playground to play what was, in the late 80s and early 90s, still The Nation’s Pastime, it was with glum satisfaction that I joined in. On one hand, I hated participating in that Sport Which Crushed All Other Sports. On the other hand, I could criticize to my heart’s delight, from the perfect vantage point: right field.

This happened throughout my childhood. Late summer nights spent watching wispy dead dandelions under the bright outfield lights. I even played on the neighborhood team in a ill-fated attempt at cultural assimilation.

In the short-term, at least, it didn’t work. I never fit in with the boys who collected baseball cards. They did it not because everyone else did, but because it was a fact of life, like breathing. These were kids who really did play catch with their dads in the back yard after dinner. My dad and I played multiplication tables.

But over time, baseball made a mark on me in a subtle, nearly undetectable way, like the sun on a painting hung on a south-facing wall. I remember running up the stairs the night the Twins won the 1991 World Series. We’d just moved into our first real house.

I remember getting my first fitted ‘Minnesota’ hat, now trapped in a grave of dust behind a dresser in my little brother’s room.

And I remember the sun going down over a slow freight train out behind right field. A reddish haze of gravel dust on my shoes and a gloved hand raised above my head to draw the gnats away.

There I stood; for all anyone knew I was waiting for a fly ball.

Somewhere between then and now I learned to love baseball. Not for the game itself, which still bores me to tears most of the time, but for the way it burrowed into my memory. Uninvited, unwelcome and out-of-place, baseball carved out a niche for itself in my life.

It is the end of summer. It is the Twins and the Braves. It the bright crack of a high fly ball, sailing into the summer sky.

Up, out, and into right field.

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