I've never been much of a basball buff. Watched two, three Toronto Blue Jay games at the stadium as a kid. Never seen a complete game from start to finish on TV. Always too slow, too methodical, too maturely intricate for my immature mind. And yet within the past few years I've grown increasingly fond of baseball books, especially the kind that follow a team around for a year or two, chronicling the highs and lows and flat-out weirdness of this children's sport played by grown men. There's a sweetness and a poetry to baseball writing at its best that combines the nostalgia of youth and the reality of aging. I just finished one called Slouching Towards Fargo, by Neal Kaplen, which depicts the minor-league exploits of an eccentric, oddball team in Minnesota partially owned by comedian Bill Murray, who routinely pops up at the ballpark for a game and a beer and an amiable chat with the local fans. I read the book and I think: There's something about baseball. I watch a few innings of the game on ESPN over here and I realize: There's something there. It's slow and languid and enables one to find a space for themselves within its lesiurely pace. You can think about life, or about the game, or both. There's a reason why two of the filmmakers with the most complex, ambiguous series of films (Woody Allen and Spike Lee) are rabid fans of this simple, unambigious game, and all sports games. There's a relief.
I can almost see it, if I concentrate hard enough. A year or so ago I planned on following a Junior B hockey team around the frigid small towns of Saskatchewan, Canada for a winter season, writing about their games, families, lives. (I swear.) Didn't work out, but still. I think about it. Only now I'm picturing baseball, not hockey.
Me, in the stands. Maybe in Canada, or America, possibly even Japan. It doesn't matter, as long as there's baseball. Notebook in hand. The sun shining. The grass green. The sun bright, blindingly so. On the field, the players warm-up, while I jot down notes on a small white pad with a big blue pen. About the players, and the people beside me. Perhaps I could follow the team from game to game, town to town, if only for a season. I could learn about who they are and where they want to go. Within the game of baseball there is a clear purpose, and a focus, and an intent. I could see what following that intent does for them, and for me. At the end of the season I might have a book. Or not. At the very least I would have spent some time in the ball-park, outside, hot dog in one hand, lemonade in the other. I now see that the real world is a harsh and scary place, and perhaps there, outside the diamond, within the stadium, a sanctuary could be found, however artificial. I could sit and listen for the crack of the bat and the swoosh of the ball and hold up my hands and wait for that hard round orb to fall between my palms. Wait for its smack against flesh, and listen to its sting.