Former Yale President, Bart Giametti, was President of the National League and briefly Major League Commissioner before he died of a heart attack at 51 in 1989. A devout Boston Red Sox fan he wrote a short essay in 1977 on baseball after another crushing end to the season for the Red Sox.
He starts the essay called Green Fields of the Mind:
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. 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. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.
He continues with an eloquent description of how and why baseball fans love listening to the game on the radio:
I wrote a few things this last summer, this summer that did not last, nothing grand but some things, and yet that work was just camouflage. The real activity was done with the radio--not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television--and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind. There, in that warm, bright place, what the old poet called Mutability does not so quickly come.
This past summer Roger Angell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York because of his wonderful graceful writing about baseball. I have read several of the books (four of them are on the shelf behind me) and they capture the flow of the game, the rhythms that are essential to baseball and the touch of the mystical at the heart of every baseball game. Now 93, Angell started writing for The New Yorker magazine in 1944 and became a fiction editor in 1956. He has been a baseball fan all his life and written about the game for over 50 years.
In The Summer Game he discusses being a fan:
This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I knew for whom that foghorn blew; it blew for me.
Later in the book he also looks to the interior game:
Baseball has one save grace that distinguishes it – for me, at any rate – from every other sport. Because of its pace, and thus the perfectly observed balance, both physical and psychological, between opposing forces, its clean lines can be restored in retrospect. This inner game – baseball in the mind – has no season, but is best played in the winter, without the distraction of other baseball news. At first, it is a game of recollections, recapturings, and visions. Figures and occasions return, enormous sounds rise and swell, and the interior stadium fills with light and yields up the sight of the young ballplayer – some hero perfectly memorized – just completing his own unique swing and now racing toward first.
In a chapter from Late Innings he corresponds with a young woman from Montana whose husband is pursuing a distant dream of a professional career. Linda, with a Bachelor’s degree in the classics and a Masters in English, loves baseball. Angell records her talking about her husband’s quest:
“I get scared about the day when he can’t play ball anymore,” she said. “I get teary thinking about it sometimes. He couldn’t have planned his life any differently, but sometimes I wish he wouldn’t give up on himself so much. There a lot of other things he could have done. But if he’d planned his life differently I wouldn’t be around.”
Harbach is a worthy writer about baseball. He provided me with some memorable vignettes of the game in his fictional account of the Westish University Harpooners following Henry Skrimshander, Mike Schwartz, Owen Dunne and their teammates.
In his book The Art of Fielding Harbach quotes from the book The Art of Fielding (a book referred to within the book) by a fictional former major leaguer:
26. The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defence. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.
Mike on baseball:
But baseball was different. Schwartz thought of it as Homeric – not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football. You stood and waited and needed to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, ….
After Henry stops eating and ends up in hospital:
“I told them only cheerleaders get anorexia. You’re a ballplayer – you’re having a spiritual crisis.”
Between my father, myself and my sons our family has been playing baseball for almost 100 years. I have written about our baseball experiences and some other summer evening will post some of my writing about the Selnes summer game.