A playful utopia

A perfect California evening at Edison Field, Anaheim, April 2003

A perfect California evening at Edison Field, Anaheim, April 2003

“Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.” 
Mark Kramer

“Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” 
Sharon Olds

To borrow the phrasing of Tolstoy’s famous quote about families, it’s my impression that football fans are all alike, but each baseball fan loves baseball in his or her own way.  Some, such as my older son, have an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, its history, and its endless statistics, coupled with cherished memories of years spent playing the game.  Some, such as my husband, also have fond memories of years of playing, but are more focused on baseball in the present moment, watching when possible, checking scores daily when other priorities prevail.

Others such as my mother and I love the game for reasons we can’t quite define. We don’t completely understand it, or even know all that much about it, compared to the die-hard fans, and we don’t follow many teams.  But loyalty to our home team (the Atlanta Braves) and the many human stories behind the amazing plays draw us in, and the cracking of the bats in springtime is music in our ears.

I divide my time between far too many interests and obligations, so most of my fascinations wax and wane, going dormant for long stretches of time, obscured by distractions that are more important or urgent.  Baseball is no exception.  But for me, there’s nothing quite like walking into a baseball stadium and seeing the field stretched out beneath me, promising an evening when the clock is strangely suspended in a contest that could theoretically go on forever.  No matter how long I’ve been away from the game, the magic is always there.

Though I mostly forsake baseball nowadays for things that rightly take precedence in my life, my deep love for it never quite leaves me.  As Olds so perfectly describes, baseball banishes my larger anxieties by taking me briefly to a parallel universe that feels as reliable as the sunset, as old as America and as young as every springtime.

17 Comments

  1. Fran Kettren

    Wow! You always say it so perfectly and beautifully! We can walk to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox games from our home. The evenings spent there are so relaxing. I had never thought about why…..but you once again have opened my eyes to the deeper meaning of something…..baseball! Love it!

    • Fran you can probably remember how excited our family got over the amazing 1991 Braves since you lived near us at that time. I’m so happy you live in proximity to the Sky Sox! We love going to see the Norfolk Tides play. I’ve decided AA and AAA baseball is better in many ways than Major League. It feels even more relaxed and friendly there. Thanks for being here!

  2. Sheila

    Good Saturday morning, Julia. We are better than the weather! I just read the issues with Matt and his cardiology visit. I will be including him in my prayers. Is there a date yet for Jeff’s upcoming surgery? I haven’t been to a baseball stadium in years but I can still remember the feeling of excitement that you mention. I hope you will find comfort in this day.
    Thinking of you…. Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, happy Saturday to you! I will email you the info about Jeff’s surgery. I hope you can find an excuse to catch a baseball game sometime (Little League or whatever) – I find that when I do go, it’s a very nice break, especially if you go with friends. Wishing you and Bill a wonderful weekend!

  3. Renee

    I absolutely love your God given gift of writing. Your gift is so full of expressions, pictures, and so many other things that put your readers right where you are! YOU MUST WRITE A BOOK!! OR 2..smile!!!

    • Renee, thanks so much for being so quick to praise and encourage my efforts. I really appreciate your visits here, your comments, your prayers and most of all your friendship!

  4. I love baseball!! “Base a ball been bery, bery good to me.” Like you I don’t actually follow it that well. I know bits of history, can’t wait to see 42, and I have a couple of favorite teams. But I always love baseball season and I enjoy watching. We have always watched the farm teams and Stephen likes that better than the major’s because he thinks tickets for major games are ridiculously over priced. Give me a game and a hotdog and I am a happy girl. I always loved that Drew and I were die hard Oakland fans. I love my Rockies now too. My friend Yvonne is like Drew as far as her knowledge of baseball. She knows all the players and teams stats etc. When I am in CO I call her during the games so we can watch together. I love baseball movies too. Everything from Angels in the Outfield to Trouble with the Curve. Fun, fun, fun. Way more fun than housework which I should be doing now. Love you. Thanks for sharing this great photo.

    • Thanks Amy, I remember your liking baseball back in ’91 and ’92 when we were all in California and I was on one of my baseball binges and was so carried away with the lefty pitching trios of the Braves and Angels. I remember you telling me you remembered Campy Campanella and I thought, not too many women I know even would know who that is. I still have the book about Babe Ruth that you gave me. Drew is still a die-hard Oakland fan although he loves the Braves who are now his hometown team as they were his mother’s. That photo was taken during the magical year when the Angels were the defending world series champs, and I still have my rally monkey. I agree with Stephen, major league anything is so way overpriced now, even Turner Field is a turnoff now compared to the old days of the “launching pad” stadium where you could always get cheap tickets because the Braves never won. I remember sitting in a high school class and a guy who had secretly smuggled a transistor radio in shouted loudly in the middle of class that Hank Aaron had just tied Babe Ruth’s record, and the teacher let him go tell the principal who announced it over the loudspeaker to the whole school. This principal was very no-nonsense but even he knew how huge this was. For so many of us, baseball is woven into our entire lives in various ways. It’s really so much more than a game. Thanks for understanding. Now I’ll go do my work and you can get back to yours. 🙂

  5. While I know absolutely nothing about baseball these days, I am so loving the last line of your post. You could sell that to Spielberg as the opening line in his next movie. I can hear Morgan Freeman saying those words as clear as day. Honestly Julia, you are a talent.

    • Wow, thanks so much – since you are in CA right now feel free to drop in on old Stevie and see what he says. I’m not signing anything until Morgan Freeman signs on, though. Seriously, I really appreciate your kind words. Baseball is great inspiration!

  6. Nancy

    We love it too! Both James and Isaiah are playing this year. I have to admit,though, it is quite nerve-wracking watching your children out on the field. Boys’ godfather took them to see “42” today.

    • Nancy, by the time Drew played in high school, I quit going to many of his games; I was afraid he got more nervous with us there and I noticed that he seemed to hit better when we weren’t! So I totally understand about watching being nerve-wracking. But I’m glad your sons are playing. Hopefully they’ll have lots of fun and fond memories.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, Bill and I are NASCAR race fans. Chipper Jones gave the call, “Start your engines!” for the drivers today. I know he’s one of your Atlanta Braves …. retired now.

    • Yes, for Chipper to be retired REALLY makes me feel old! He wasn’t even in the majors yet when we went to the World Series in Atlanta in 1991! He’s a great favorite in Atlanta, though. We have a NASCAR track near our York home, but I’ve never been there. Cars of any kind are one of the very few topics that I have no interest in. I couldn’t even tell you what my friends and family members drive. I can barely remember the make and model and year of the car I drive! But if you ever come this way you’ll have to check out the local track.

  8. Seymour

    That moment you describe — that first glimpse of the field as you walk into the ballpark — is a moment of transcendence that somehow never loses its luster. I feel it even when I return from the restroom, having been away from the scene for all of two minutes. It may sound corny or blasphemous to some people, but it might be the best purchase I can get on the concept of heaven: a beatific vision that remains perpetually new.

    Speaking of ballparks as glimpses of heaven inevitably brings the movie Field of Dreams to mind. But your words also reminded me of that movie in another way. By the end of your post, I felt like Terrence Mann listening to the local journalist’s tribute to Moonlight Graham in Chisholm, Minnesota. “You wrote that?… You’re a good writer.” This seems to be the consensus of your readers here.

    • Wow Seymour, thanks. I am so glad you like the post. As with all such lofty subjects, baseball is a marvelous source of inspiration, one that can never be fully captured in words, and thus a happy challenge to undertake describing. So, I’m very happy if anyone thinks I paid it a fitting tribute. I agree that there is something otherworldly about a baseball field. On earth we are reduced to symbols to try to communicate the concept of infinity, and baseball seems as good a symbol as any. Thanks so much for your visits here, and your comments.

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