Amy Bass: Magic Waters Of Baseball
If they open it, to paraphrase James Earl Jones in his role as fictional writer Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, people will come. “And they’ll watch the game,” Jones said – no need for paraphrasing now – “and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters.”
This is what I thought of the other night, the night that I went to a baseball game.
Baseball means a lot to me. It serves as a marker of time, both personal and historic. Major League Baseball’s recent elevation of the Negro Leagues – with all of the relevant stats and records – to major league status, for example, is as much about contemporary Black Lives Matters movements as it is about Satchel Paige.
The game, Terence Mann continues in the movie, “reminds us of all that once was good, it could be again.” And yes, that – THAT – was my experience on Wednesday at Citi Field, watching my beloved Boston Red Sox successfully take on Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets with a mere 8,050 other people.
My relationship with the Red Sox has been rocky through the pandemic, as some of my ride-or-die players – Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Junior – are playing in someone else’s outfields these days. But the act of going to that stadium, having my temperature taken and showing my Excelsior vaccination passport on my phone to a perfectly jubilant gate attendant, and taking my seat a row behind the visitor’s dugout to watch nine innings felt, well, really good.
For the better part of the last year, I have been critical about the return of sport before the return of school. Baseball, I’ve argued, should be a bonus, a reward, for solving the pandemic, not a target leading the way. I largely ignored its knotty return last summer, with a truncated 82-game season, no spectators, and a lot of dialogue about players’ salaries.
Until my daughter was back in social studies and math class, I didn’t care who hit or caught what.
But I also appreciate that throughout this pandemic, and in the months – perhaps years – to come, we need to find our normal where and when we can. It isn’t something that can magically reappear – it takes work: vaccine distribution, social distancing, learning about who infects who and how, and understanding that we are engaged in a global, not national, problem, and that India’s pandemic is America’s, too.
But with my daughter now in week three of fully live and in person classroom learning, more than a year after the pivot to fully remote, and then partially remote, took place, I decided to go to a baseball game.
I watched deGrom hurl 100 mile-per-hour fastballs right out of the gate, and Mets fans boo Francisco Lindor – and others – as they failed to back up their ace with their bats. I watched Xander Bogaerts, one of the few familiar faces on the Red Sox this year, hit a lead-off double in the second inning, and then Christian Vazquez drive him in with his own double. It was all they needed. A 1-0 shutout, with Matt Barnes finishing it off just before the rain came down.
It. Felt. Good. But it wasn’t just the win – it was having the time and space to feel like me again, even if just for a fleeting nine innings. I thought about my dad, who gifted me with a solid knowledge of batting and pitching, and an appreciation for the infield fly rule even if I think it is neither just nor right. I thought about my mom, home in Massachusetts watching for a glimpse of me and my brother, texting us for more photos so she could figure out where we were sitting. I thought about Fenway, where people now vote and get vaccinated in addition to watching baseball in small numbers.
What a luxury those nine innings were. Magic waters, indeed.
Amy Bass is professor of sport studies and chair of the division of social science and communication at Manhattanville College. Bass is the author of ONE GOAL: A COACH, A TEAM, AND THE GAME THAT BROUGHT A DIVDED TOWN TOGETHER, among other titles. In 2012, she won an Emmy for her work with NBC Olympic Sports on the London Olympic Games.
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