Thursday, April 1, 2021

Opening Day: Yay!

Hallelujah! Baseball is back! It’s a wonderful thing.

A few years ago, I didn’t follow it much, but in recent years I’ve made a point to listen to the Cardinals. My parents are lifelong fans, so I grew up hearing Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call the games, it seems, every summer night of my youth. I go back to being a kid, up to my elbows in suds at the kitchen sink, washing the dishes after supper. The windows would be open. The air would be humid and heavy, but blessedly a bit cooler. The sound of the ballgame formed an auditory tapestry with the sounds of katydids, whip-poor-wills, crickets, frogs, nighthawks, distant traffic on Mexico Gravel Road or Route B.

I grew up hearing stories about the great Cardinals of the 1940s, because they were the heroes of my Mom and Dad. Mom used to say she was named after Dizzy Dean, since her middle name was Dean. I heard about Marty Marion, Enos Slaughter, Mort and Walker Cooper, and Stan Musial. Whenever Mom needed to tell someone how to pronounce the “oe” in our name, she’d tell them, “It’s like Red Schoendienst.”

By the time I was old enough to start paying attention to the radio while we were driving home from Jeff City, I heard Buck and Shannon call out names like Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Keith Hernandez.

When I was in junior and senior high, everyone was excited about Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Darrell Porter, John Tudor, Bruce Sutter, Bob Forsch, Jose Oquendo, and, of course, Ozzie Smith, the super-athletic 13-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop who always did back flips as the team dashed out onto the field at the start of the game. Of course we watched all the playoff and World Series games.

But I didn’t really follow the Cardinals. Not like my parents and my brother did.

There was a time when I was a kid that I used my mom’s old first-baseman glove (a Snag-Em model), or borrowed my brother’s glove, and played lots of catch in the backyard, mostly with my brother. I never got into it; I was not very good at catching, since my depth perception suffers from my amblyopia and alternating vision. Also, there were no teams for girls, so not really a way to get involved enough to improve. And with my growing sense of feminism, I started realizing that sportsball, at all levels, is all about boys and men, which is incredibly unfair.

I used to wonder why practically a third of every newspaper and every news broadcast is traditionally devoted to coverage of sports. Why not science? Why not the arts? Why sports, especially so much on professional sports? Why not include it in the business section?

But I’ve altered my opinion in recent years—hence my purposeful attention to the game. It’s a way for me to connect with my parents. It’s a way to connect with my past, and my region. And it’s just fun. I like to listen while I’m fixing dinner or doing the dishes, or (with ear buds) even mowing the lawn. We haven’t had a TV in ages, and I don’t miss it. Radio baseball fits my lifestyle better.

We've even made a point of driving to St. Louis or Kansas City at least once a year to catch a game, except for last year.

Last year’s lack of baseball was revealing. There was a huge empty space in the summer evenings. It was as if the crickets had stopped chirping. It was so quiet. Also, we needed the diversion. With all that happened with the pandemic, and all that stress—we really needed it for its entertainment value. It didn’t matter who won or lost—we just needed the diversion. It was a blessing when it returned, even if just for a brief, weird season.

I just makes me appreciate baseball even more. It’s a challenging, complicated, unpredictable, and generally nonviolent game. Those players are like our friends. Their success is our success. Their struggles, frustrations, and losses are ours, but fleeting. It can be so symbolic and uplifting. It can reflect a lot of what’s great about the human spirit, including our sense of fairness and sportsmanship.

I’m so glad it’s back!

Go Cards!