Friday, July 30, 2010

Take Me Out to the Living Room

Baseball was my first love. My dad grew up in Westwood, California during the fifties and sixties - a time when John Wooden quietly built a basketball dynasty at UCLA, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles., and a little professional basketball team called The Lakers relocated from Minneapolis. As a result, I was a brainwashed northern Californian kid with a blind allegiance to the heroes my dad worshiped.

By the time I was six years old I bled Dodger blue. I collected baseball cards, memorized standings, and dreamed of one day playing or managing or being a radio broadcaster. Sometimes I would turn off the volume on the TV and practice, describing the players, their stats, the tension of the moment, and some inane fact like preferring oatmeal raisin to chocolate chip or owning a rare, endangered animal. I loved everything about baseball - the hats, the shirts, the pace, and the fact that there were successful fat guys like Fernando Valenzuela filling with hope the dreams of chubby kids like me. 

From the age of six to eight I was almost always wearing my blue L.A. hat. My mom would make me take it off at the dinner table and when I went to bed, but as soon as the light was out and she pulled the door closed, the hat came right back out from beneath my pillow and returned to its rightful place on my feathered, Shaun Cassidy hairdo. In the days before free agency and million dollar contracts, teams had a stability and consistency unlike I'd ever experienced. The Dodger infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey stayed together longer and had fewer errors than my parents' relationship.

I have two first game memories - one day game and one at night. The day game was a double header against the hometown Giants at Candlestick park. I was seven years old and my dad bought us tickets in the bleachers - a much more hostile environment than you find at the new Phone Company Park downtown. During the first game, my brother and I watched in fear as the drunk Giants fans tormented a Dodger fan with sunflower seeds and hostilities.  When  my dad bought us Dodger hats he asked permission for us to wear them. Their response: The kids can wear them, but not you. The second game was a cold, windy, night game on my twelfth birthday. I remember three things clearly from that night: the bright lights beaming down onto the infield grass, the electric crowd that cheered, booed, and taunted to no end, and the field sobriety test my dad had to pass on the way home.

Although I'm still a fan of UCLA and the Lakers, in the the wake of the 1989 Bay Bridge Series, I converted and became an avid San Francisco Giants baseball fan. Yesterday, as a belated birthday gift to my fellow convert and mother-in-law who had never been to AT & T park, we drove down to San Francisco to watch the Giants take on the Florida Marlins.

The game started at 12:45, so we hit the road by eight in the morning, picked my brother up in Healdsburg, and made it to the park by a little after one. The older I get, the less interested I am in making a nine hour round trip drive for two to three hour game, especially with things at home like high definition TV, instant replay, comfortable, roomy couches, and a wonderful absence of thirty-five thousand other fans. I'm totally getting old.

By the time we got to our seats at 1:15 it was the bottom of the second inning and the Giants trailed 1-0. The bleachers were packed but the crowd had little to cheer about as the Marlins added two more runs before the Giants got their first hit. Amari looked around the stands, stared a few people down, drank a bottle, and showed very little interest in the game itself. Then it happened, bottom of the fifth inning, and Pablo Sandoval hits a bloop single to center field. The crowd went nuts, the girl right next to us shrieked while everyone else hooped and hollered and cheered. Amari jerked away from me, burst into hysterical tears, and didn't calm down until Carrie walked her around the plaza behind out seats.

After that, I think the Giants were just being conscientious of their new fan, because not a single player got another hit. Final score: Marlins 5, Giants 0. Thank god I didn't purchase tickets to the 10-9 extra-inning thriller the day before. So that was Amari's first baseball game, and probably her last until she has the words to say, "Hell no. I hate baseball." I think she's just a fan pitching duels and soccer scores.

The trucker 'stache is left-over from an encore film by Neil Goldberg coming soon to a blog near you.I'm a method actor. ;)

As we sat in the baseball park that afternoon I remembered all the reasons I love the sport. There's a timeless, paradoxical quality to it. It's simple with complex subtleties. It's slow and redundant with moments of unbearable tension. It's constant and constantly changing. And being there with Amari, I felt like both a father and a child, baseball glove on one hand, baby in the other.

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