Sunday, July 26, 2020

Baseball's back. Yay?

There's something about a baseball field that reaches down and grabs me by my core.

At first, I thought this feeling only pertained to major league fields. The first ballpark I ever saw in person was old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. I was a sophomore in high school and had an opportunity to see a major league game for the first time ever.

To this day, I can still close my eyes and see the vibrant green grass of the outfield; the dark tan crust of the infield, the bazzillion watt candlepower of the stadium lights, the smells of spilled warm beer and Philly's signature soft pretzels, the electrified murmur of the crowd as we found our seats. My pulse quickened when the players took the field. It's all there for me. Instantly. To this day.

Then, after I became a small-town sports writer, I discovered the feeling was nearly the same when I went to cover games at Holt-Moffitt Field, or Salisbury's Newman Park or Thomasville's Finch Field. The stadiums were smaller, of course. But the baseball field dimensions were basically the same.

What is it about baseball that, for me at least, is like no other sport?

Baseball, of course, took a necessary hiatus when the coronavirus pandemic showed up. Opening Day was pushed back from March 26 until July 23 while MLB tried to figure out how to safely social distance while playing games.

So after four months elapsed, baseball took the field again the other night. And it was ... strange.

There are no fans in the stands (unless they are cardboard cutouts. Also, no electrified murmurs, unless it's canned; no soft pretzels; no stale beer). Players wear face masks in the dugout. The National League now has the designated hitter; extra inning games start with a runner on second base; most games are leaning toward regional (Yankees v. Mets; Cubs v. White Sox; Dodgers v. Angels) in an effort to cut down travel on airplanes.

The game is the same, but somehow different.

If there are no fans in the stands, why can't players play the game in gym shorts and t-shirts? Why can't umpires wear shorts? Can managers argue with umpires if they wear N95 masks? Perhaps not. It's not a good look for television.

Then there's this times-have-really-changed moment, when Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo joyfully dispensed hand sanitizer to Milwaukee base runner Orlando Arcia the other night:

Baseball also has this: It's a sometimes slow-moving, but ultimately an inevitable vehicle for social change, if not social awareness. Think Jackie Robinson.

So the other night, when the Nationals hosted the Yankees in their season opener, players from both teams knelt during the National Anthem in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Depending on where you stand in the political spectrum, you were either infuriated, or celebratory. I bet Jackie Robinson, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II, and a civil rights activist, would have approved. Why? He was once court martialed for refusing to sit in the back of a segregated bus. He was later exonerated. His social reform roots were deep.

The pandemic, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the economy, the Confederacy, the Constitution, have all descended and coalesced upon us almost at once, and it's exhausting.

I hesitate to turn to a work of fiction (even though the times we're living in seem stranger than fiction), but one of the best descriptions of baseball I've ever heard came from a fictional character, Terrance Mann, in "Field of Dreams" as he speaks to protagonist Ray Kinsella about his magical cornstalk-infested baseball field:

"The one constant through the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: It's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again."

Play ball.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Who was first?

Did you ever wonder who was first?

I was mowing the yard the other day – when there already was a heat index of 90 degrees at 10 a.m. – when the thought came to me, "Geez, who was the first person to mow his yard?"

For me, at least, mowing the yard readily lends itself sometimes to frivolous, sometimes vacuous free-thinking. The hum of the push mower engine is monotonous (even with ear protection), the mowing of rows of grass is relentlessly repetitive, and the flow of directionless thinking consequently is unleashed and apparently is unending.

I might discover the secret to world peace someday by mowing the yard.

Anyway, who was the first person to mow his yard (thereby inventing the lawnmower?) because he decided it made his property look better? I don't know.

I often digress in my own head. Who was the first Cro-Magnon to discover intimacy? I'm not talking procreation here – I'm talking about a kiss as an expression of affection. Did the first kiss evolve after some hairy, sweaty early human stumbled into personal grooming, thus eliminating body odor? Who was the first person to use something akin to soap for cleanliness? Or even water, for that matter. Who was the first to use an intoxicating scent?

Who initiated the first kiss – a male, or female? And who decided that a kiss was so earth-shaking that others had to be told about it?

Who was the first person to shave? Or a haircut? Who decided that was a good idea? Did shaving result in kissing?

Who was the first to imagine a divine entity?

Grooming, social convention, religion are all gigantic moments in mankind. Why aren't the first persons to discover these things listed by name in history books? Why is Babe Ruth famous, but Atouk isn't?

(I'm discovering that mowing the yard isn't the only thing that generates stream of consciousness – or, as it so happens, unconsciousness. So can writing a blog).

Somebody has to be first to discover whatever it is that has to be discovered. Right now, I'm waiting for the first Covid-19 vaccine. That person ought to be made famous when it happens.

In the meantime, if you drive by my house and the yard needs mowing, it probably means I've stopped thinking.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Passport to the world

In my experience, God must have a deep and intricate sense of humor.

Think of elephants. And giraffes. And gooney birds.

Anyway, about a year ago a history-geek friend of mine mentioned that he wanted to go back to see Normandy – the site of the world-changing D-Day invasion – one more time before he was too old to travel. Hmm, I thought. So would I, and I asked if I could tag along. Visiting Normandy has been a substrata bucket list item for me for a while, lost in the layers of all the other things I need to do in my life.

But crossing the Atlantic would require getting a passport. I'd never done that. I've been to about 40 of the 50 states, including Alaska, but I've never been overseas. Until I picked up a history book, I'd never given world travel much of a thought.

Now there was an opportunity.

So in February, when the Clerk of Court's office offered its annual passport day, Kim and I stood in a relatively fast-moving line and applied for our passports. After the paperwork was filled out and approved, and money exchanged, the nice lady behind the counter said our passports should arrive in four to six weeks.

Our passports are here. Now what...???
 That's when God stepped in and said, "Slow down, son. Here, try this pandemic on for size."

The four-to-six week waiting period turned into a three-to-four month waiting period, since there was suddenly an embargo on issuing new passports because of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

I don't often hear the voice of God, but I swear I could hear Him laughing this time. In my vision, He laughs with a deep, resonate voice, kind of like Geoffrey Holder did in those famous 7-Up cola nut commercials. Ha ha ha ha ha. Except deeper. I don't know how to make type face sound deeper.

(Incidentally, I don't see God as a corporeal entity, as if He were an old man with a long, white beard and shepherd's hook. To me, God is something more ethereal and exists primarily in our own spiritual context. But if He is a physical entity, then I hope She's female. A Black female. That would give those Confederates something to think about when they approach the Pearly Gates).

But I digress. Because of the virus, nobody was going anywhere. Especially, as it turns out, Americans, because we're stupid and we let the virus spike because we're going to Myrtle Beach and nobody is going to tell me to wear a face mask and I've got my rights. Europeans don't even want us to come over, even with our bulging wallets and unlimited credit and debit cards.

Anyway, in the middle of this current spike, guess what showed up in the mail? Yep. The passports arrived about two weeks ago. Ha ha ha ha ha.

Great. Now what? I'm not even going to Gettysburg this year. Now that's really saying something.

The trip to Normandy was never set in stone. It was always in the talking/dreaming stage, but if we did decide to go, at least I have my passport ready. The lack of one is no longer an obstacle.

Looks like for now, I have to go to Normandy in my mind, in the same way that James Taylor goes to Carolina.

I need some cola nuts, and I need them now.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

China syndrome

Back when I was in high school, during the Middle Ages in the 1960s, I had the choice of which second language I wanted to learn.

That's because a second language was an elective in the college prep curriculum. We could pick between German, French and Spanish, I believe. And to think I was still having trouble with English.

Since I was living in a place called Center Valley, in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country (local farmers still had hex signs on their quaint but attractive barns), I figured German was the logical choice. I mean, we had regional breweries with names like Horlacher, Neuweiler, Piels and Rheingold, for cyring out loud, and bakeries that made pretzels with the names of Miller (no doubt anglicized from Meuller) and Wolfel.

Well, German would have been a great choice if I wanted to be a waiter in a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant or a brewer in Allentown.

But as the world turns, Spanish might have been a better option with the gradual increase of Hispanic immigration. Didn't foresee that at the time, of course. So I ended up taking two years of German in the 10th and 11th grades, and later, a semester at Kutztown State College (ach du lieber. Kutztown?). Nearly 50 years later, I've forgotten most of what I learned, although I can still count to 10, auf deutsch. Yay, me. I can still translate words like Lufthansa and Volkswagen for you, if you want. Very helpful.

But even Spanish might have been a short-sighted choice. Maybe Chinese is the way to go these days. Especially if you order something from Amazon.

A couple weeks ago, Kim and I decided we needed a thermometer in the house, just to make sure we weren't running any Covid temperatures. We haven't had a thermometer in forever. I can't even remember owning an old mercury thermometer, the kind you shook out before placing it under your tongue.

Our new thermometer. (Click to enlarge)
 So Kim put in her order. A couple of weeks later, we got our new digital thermo-meter. From BaiQen. I couldn't wait. I opened the box and unfolded the instructions. Everything – and I mean everything – was written in Chinese. Not a word of English to be found.

I googled BaiQen and found a short video on YouTube showing me how to operate the thermometer. Put it under your tongue, press the button, wait for the beep.

Okay. I did that. And the digital readout told me my temperature was 37.4.

Well, crap. Maybe it was broken. I tried it again, just to make sure. 37.6. Clearly, I was getting hot.

Then I looked at the picture of the thermometer that was printed on the box. The readout in the picture was in Celsius. Jeez. I went back to my computer and did a Celsius to Fahrenheit (a good German name) conversion. Turns out, I'm normal (in a manner of speaking). 98 point something.

The lesson here is that you have to be careful when ordering from Amazon. Kim also ordered hand wipe sanitizers, and what we got were those mini packages, each with a strip about two inches long and a half-inch wide. Fifty of them. Mostly, you use them to wipe down an area on your arm where you might give yourself an insulin injection, or something like that.

An acquaintance of ours told me she ordered a book on Amazon to give as a gift to her daughter. It cost $30. But she had failed to read the small print. When the book arrived, it was all in Italian, right down to the copyright.

Now I'm thinking we might have to order something else just to figure out the stuff we ordered: Rosetta Stone.