I have a solution to the problems of divisiveness that
have reared their heads on our listserv lately: talk
     Baseball can be discussed endlessly, at least by
scads of  males of my generation. Disagreements can
surface without rancor--disagreements about who the
greatest player is, or was; what the greatest all-time
all-star team would be; what actual team was the
greatest in history; how old-time players would do in
today's leagues. 
     Players, managers, and coaches of the game itself
are all famous for their "rhubarbs" that are often cartooned as vast human pile-ups with dust stirred up, hands stuck inside opponent's mouths, stars and cuss words all over. In stark contrast, I don't think I've ever seen two fans, discussing the game away from the ball park, at least, "get personal" so that their own bitter rivalry becomes the focus of their conversation. I wanted to be a baseball player "when I grew up" ,till I was twelve or so. I haven't played the game since, except for slow-pitch softball in my work with little kids. I'm 54 now. Yet baseball continues to occupy a place in my mind that nothing else, it seems, ever will, except for Baba, about Whom the most incidental chit-chat or speculation likewise becomes fascinating. I try in vain to comprehend how that boyhood place inside me can have remained so pristine all these years. I just read a front-page article in today's San Francisco CHRONICLE about baseball
heroes from my own childhood. Ernie Banks, whose name I hadn't heard in decades, as well as Willie Mays and Orlando Cepada, among others, were in town honoring current hero Barry Bonds before a Giants' game. Reading those names took me right there--to the rundown St. Louis neighborhood (tears fall as I write this) at Grand and Dodier, where as a boy I would sit next to my dad during some 50 games a year, watching Stan Musial--"the Donora gazelle"--and the other Cardinals host sluggers like Banks and Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Kluzewski, Duke Snyder, and Del Ennis. All those names still stir the magic. They were all young men who could run fast, or throw a ball hard, or hit one far. They wore white or grey flannel uniforms with colorful logos, and the rest of us watched them in awe. By the time they were forty or so, they had all retired and opened restaurants, or in Snyder's case, worked an avocado farm. "Baseball is a game about coming Home," a poet once wrote. Was that it? Was that the fascination? I used to read thick, beige, hard-covered books full of statistics and stories about legendary baseball figures like Christy Mathewson, who died of tuberculosis at the height of his career; Rube Wadell, a great, eccentric pitcher who as a child had been rescued by firemen and could sometimes be found riding firetrucks to blazing buildings when he was supposed to be pitching; Ty Cobb--whom Baba-lover George Gerdes once played on the New York stage-- whose great baseball talent was matched, apparently, only by his "S.O.B.-ness" as a person; Lou Gehrig; and many, many others. I somehow lost interest in baseball when Musial retired and the Cardinals moved to a big, sterile, new stadium (now called the "old stadium) with no real
grass for the outfielders to dream in and a homogenized
crew of vendors replacing the odd characters in Cardinal
caps who used to hawk scorecards and hot dogs at the old
stadium*. Today I don't think I could name 5 active
ballplayers. But baseball will always live mythically in my imagination, perhaps like the pantheon of the gods lives in Greece or Norway. And it will likely always live that way in American literature, too. I vividly remember laughing my way through Phillip Roth's THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, a hilarious book for which Roth chose baseball as the subject, in the '70s. I loved the magic Redford brought to the screen in "The Natural," and--very unusual for me--I twice read THE SOUTHPAW, a novel by Mark Harris that one of my childhood mentors told me would teach me more about life than any other book.And I treasured Roger Kahn's THE BOYS OF SUMMER--the title a line from Dylan Thomas--about the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955, and what these guys were really like as people. I even posted an All-time All-star team of Saints and Perfect Masters on the Listserv once, with Rumi as the pitcher. Several other guys posted their ideas of the (literally!) Perfect team, too! The whole thing was a ludicrous concept,since ANY Perfect Master could obviously play ANY position perfectly! But that's baseball--full of personal whimsy and quirkiness! When I was pitching and playing outfield recently in a game with some first graders, a Mother who was picking up her son remarked to me, "You have all the baseball moves and instincts on the field!" She was the coach of her kid's team, so she was able to recognize what is true: that under the bright baseball sun, when I take part even in these school playground games, my whole body still reacts every time the pitcher lets go of a ball. My muscles are tensed, yet poised, ready to move in any direction. My eye watches the ball and keys minutely off the batter's swing. The green outfield meadows I roam in are the closest I ever came to "being in touch with Nature" during much of my youth, and I still feel that joy when I'm there. So when you're about to go ballistic about someone's post, try dropping the "istic" at the end of that word, and adding a "base" at its beginning.Try talking Baseball instead! OK, maybe that sounds lame, like the bumper sticker I saw in South Carolina that said FISHING, NOT DRUGS, as though those were the only two alternatives. But, well, the thought has at least aided me today in touching and sharing a remarkable realm within, one that may live in a few other guys hearts here, too. I wonder if there is, or was, any equivalent realm for girls, and what that might be. ____ *Major leaguers probably don't daydream much in the outfield, but kids do. As for the characters in Cardinal's caps at the old games, I still remember one fan--probably *born* at the ball park--who would just scream a shrill, high-pitched note and wave a Cardinal pennant when the home team did something good. You got the feeling at the old ball park that there were people who were born there and died there, and probably never, ever left.

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