Thursday, September 16, 2010

The thrill of the grass ...




The headline on this post comes from the title of a baseball-related short story collection from Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella also wrote the great baseball novel "Shoeless Joe," which was made into the film "Field of Dreams."
I read Kinsella decades ago, when I romanticized baseball. Which I still do. Not the profession, not the incredibly skilled and wealthy major league ballplayers, but the game itself. The game is bigger than the major league players. It's about history and evolution and children playing it in neighborhoods with no adults to supervise them. I know people in England who feel the same way about cricket. The dimensions of the game, the field, the pitch, the distance between wickets, the distance between bases, the speed the ball is thrown, the way success and failure - personally and collectively - are defined by inches or centimeters. The way the ball bounces, the angle of the bat, the slip of a fielder on wet turf. Anything can make a difference.
Baseball is a game for boys played in its softball form by me and my friends - men in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. We have among us schoolteachers, one working and one retired financial manager, a housepainter, a jeweler, a potter, a carpenter, a cable television guy, a boatbuilder, a movie actor, a journalist, a number of sailors and tennis players, several fathers and at least one grandfather and a number of men whose professions and hobbies and family situations I just don't know. But these are working class guys, for the most part, smokers and beer-drinkers. Local boys from the mid-Cape area who gravitated toward this team because part of them never outgrew the glove and the ball and the bat.
Mostly, I think, they never outgrew the competition. A number of them put down their softball gear at this time of year and begin playing hockey.
We finished our season this past Wednesday evening, on the roughly maintained and rutted softball field at Barnstable-West Barnstable elementary school. (My team, The Radish, has been playing there for more than 35 years.) In the wet heat of a Cape Cod summer, I often wear a sleeveless t-shirt on the field to encourage some air circulation. Wednesday, I rummaged in the back of my pickup for a long-sleeve t-shirt. It was cool and the sun was going down and we could only get in about seven innings before it became dark enough to become dangerous to field hard-hit softballs. Winter is clearly coming.
Our season was supposed to end last week, but everyone wanted one more game, so we showed up again, picked our teams and played into the dark. A few more times at bat, a few more turns in the field, before the leaves fall and the snow comes again. We all take our own play seriously, though we all know we're only playing a game. Real life happens on either side of the hour or two of Wednesday evening down there on the grass.

7 comments:

Elizabeth Seaver said...

Great story. That baseball I can "get". The glitzy-stadium-lighted-removed-from-me-by-a-TV-screen one, not so much!

Cindy Shake said...

I've nominated you for a "Life is Good" blog award :o) I know you may not be into these things but I love your writing and taking a peek on what's happening on the far side of the states. You can read about the nomination on my blog via Linda Starr.

ladyofclay said...

Nice post Hollis. I too have enjoyed Kinsella's work, and not just because he is from my home town ! Have you read the Silas Ermineskin series ? The author captured the whole culture so well I was surprised to learn he was not 1st Nation.

Hollis Engley said...

Thanks, all. I don't know know the Ermineskin series, Colleen. But i knew Kinsella had written quite a bit from the Native side of things. Great writer, that guy. And what do I do about the blog award, Cindy? Is there something I have to fill out, as you did on yours?

Barry said...

All I can say is.... Great post! Enough said.

janet said...

The 8 - 12 year olds play 6 innings - what's so bad about that? There's honor in it. Play a six inning game next week and I'll come to watch.

Hollis Engley said...

That will be a tough one to bring off, Janet. I think you should just bring a glove to coffee one morning and I'll get a ball and my own glove from the truck and we'll play catch.