Baseball, winter and remembrance

Before the winter set in, Alex Belth penned this marvelous tribute to his late father and how “his remaining connection to the sport was the two Rogers, Roger Angell and Roger Kahn. They have been linked in my mind ever since.”

The SB Nation Longform article delves deeply into that linkage, what “The Old Man” thought of the writers and their works, and Belth’s more recent encounters with both Rogers after his father’s death.

Picture 1Afterward, as he held his father’s copy of “The Boys of Summer,” the son admitted it was “about a father and son connecting through baseball:”

I imagined Dad reading the book when it was published forty years ago. He was married to a beautiful woman and his career in TV was flourishing, his fantasies being realized. I understood how he could have seen himself in Kahn. But he didn’t have Kahn’s drive or professional discipline. Yet if the Old Man never achieved the professional success he craved, if sobriety was not the perfect tool to repair his own spiritual wreckage, and if he wasn’t always the father I needed him to be, he was not a failure. He taught me about generosity and compassion, to value hard work and effort, and above all, how to appreciate a good story.

It was the difference, in the end, between what we want to be and who we are.

With the winter still doggedly hanging around as March and spring training have arrived, I’ve read over this story several times, trying to forge another connection that has eluded my grasp. Perhaps the timing isn’t anything more than coincidental, but I’ve always found the baseball off-season the perfect time to plumb the deeper chords of memory.

After all, this is a sport that, at least in America, is shrouded by its past like no other. The familial connections that Belth so eloquently explores are a strong example of why this is.

I have no such links, given that my father wasn’t a passionate baseball fan. I can’t recall him ever reading much about the game, much less watching or following it.

Not long after my parents were married, and before they started a family, he attended Milwaukee Braves games at County Stadium with my mother’s uncles.

After the Braves followed us to Atlanta, and as I was deeply immersed in my first sporting love, there were a few games we attended together at Atlanta Stadium. I remember wearing my full softball uniform, including stirrups, cap and glove. Only my plastic cleats had to be sacrificed, in the name of practicality, for sneakers.

Soon after the marriage dissolved, like that of Belth’s parents, and the memories of those times are rather short.

But they keep recurring as I proceed in middle age, fighting the urge to traffick in cheap nostalgia. Are memories what we try to revive and understand when we wonder if there’s not much more to look forward to? A devoted baseball fan would say not; there are always new memories waiting to be created. Their meaning, like a fine wine, requires years to distill.

And now I’m sounding like the baseball poets, something I avidly seek to avoid, and the subject of tomorrow’s post. Grapefruit and Cactus League games are underway, and a month of anticipation is counting down. A friend of mine, on Facebook, is posting a “Brave of the day” baseball card, which evokes even more memories. We’re roughly the same age, so we share the same timeline that predates the Braves’ spectacular success of the 1990s.

He remembers, as I do, “crowds” of 2,000 or so at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (the name change didn’t do much except placate petty politicians), and being implored by Milo Hamilton to show support for a team 35 games out of first place. 382320_10101985210553980_769018579_n

That scolding always rubbed me the wrong way, and he thankfully got out of town and off local airwaves. But it never soured me on the obsession of following an utterly hopeless team, or feeling devastated when the rare fat years (I’m especially thinking 1982 here) were followed by so many more lean ones.

My friend just wants the baseball season to hurry up and get here, and I have to admit I’ve been eager for it to return. After a number of years of feigning only idle interest stemming from the 1994 strike, I’ve come to realize that it’s such a foolish thing, to “boycott” something you love so much. You’re stunting your own understanding of the memories that have shaped you, and not just as a baseball fan.

I’ve truly enjoyed the last few summers of turning on a game and letting it take me back, way back. Steadily, this has helped me catch up to what the game has meant to me on a deeper level than who won, who lost, and what the standings look like today.

It’s that connection that gets switched on when March turns to April, and as the bitter cold of winter melts into an early spring.

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