Every year it happens. Sometimes earlier, and sometimes later. In several seasons recently, I've been blessed for it to end in the best way possible. But every year, baseball season ends. And when it does, I always read A. Bartlett Giamatti's classic essay "The Green Fields of the Mind".
Growing up as a fervent Red Sox fan, and the son of parents who divorced when I was two, going to Fenway Park with my dad was always a special treat. As a rule, I only saw him on Sundays. So when it was a summer Sunday with the Sox in town, well, nothing beat a trip to the ball yard. We'd jumble into his beat up, wood-paneled station wagon and drive right up to the lot on Brookline Ave, directly across from the ticket office. In those days - the down-trodden early 80's teams are most memorable to me - you could walk up just before game time and buy good seats in the grandstands for $5 a ticket. (I might be making up the price - I was never buying.)
I loved the games. We got a scorecard, I looked for my favorite players, rooted as loudly as I wanted, and always got a bunch of junk food. It was all baseball, though. We never talked much about anything else during the game, or after. My dad was generally a man of few words, still is most of the time. And I suppose that was alright back then. It let me watch the game with full attention - it let me get completely lost.
These days I don't go to ballgames very much. I still follow the team, keeping an eye on the scores and the standings. But if I watch more than a few innings of baseball on TV per season, that's kind of a big deal. (Unless the Sox make the playoffs; then all bets are off.) No, mostly I listen on the radio and check the scores & stories online.
I recognized last year that I hadn't gone to a game at Fenway in a long time. Inspired by this, I texted my dad to see if he was up for going to a game. Sure enough, he was, and we made plans to meet up for a late August tilt against the Tampa Bay Rays. As ever, he bought the tickets.
My excitement grew as the day of the game approached. It had been years since I'd seen the expanse of green that makes Fenway Park such a gem. I also found myself feeling eager to have a different experience at that game. I wanted to talk to my dad about life, the big things, you know? We don't do that - it's never been a place he's wanted to go - so I knew it would be a bit of a stretch. But it's one that I was more than ready to take on.
As I strode up to the the Riverside MBTA station, which has its own nostalgia from all those years ago, I spotted my old man from about 50 yards away. Nearing him, he spotted me and stood up from the bench where he'd been camped out. Then the odd thing happened. I noticed a tall, gangly, redheaded kid - probably about 18 years old - stand up a half-beat after my dad did. Odd, I thought. As I neared my dad he offered a typical greeting of a hello and a quick hug. Then he turned to introduce me to that teen - Jake, his girlfriend's son.
I'm sure I greeted Jake graciously, but my stomach sank. Here I thought I was in for a long-awaited, and extremely rare, day of one-on-one time with my father. And it was not to be. As you might guess, there had been no mention whatsoever of this being a three man event. Over the course of the day, I probably got about 20 words out of my dad. I enjoyed Jake a lot - he's a really nice kid. But, wow, it hurt.
"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart."
The Green Fields of the Mind starts with these two sentences. And in most years, for most baseball fans, it is true.
"The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."
There is so much hope in the game of baseball. I think it's why I will always love it. The rare sport with no clock to define an ending time, there is always the chance of a comeback. Those memories of sunshine and high skies, whether real or imagined, can always be invoked by that simple, complicated game.
As my life moves into, as Giamatti writes, "a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it", I realize that the twilight shows itself earlier. I have yet to reconcile this swing & miss relationship with my father. It's possible that might never happen.
"I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun."
I still am not even sure what it is that lasts forever for me. But in a green field, in the sun, it all seems a lot more simple.
Jim Young lives a couple of hours from Fenway Park these days, in Florence, MA. His son (and daughters) don't follow baseball at all.
When he's not listening to the game on the radio, Jim is often working with Dads, helping them open up green fields in their lives through the similarly poetic game of coaching.
If you want to talk baseball, or coaching, you can reach him at email@example.com.