Friday, April 9, 2010

There Is A Season

It's worst this time of year.

I don't know what it is, exactly. The weather, maybe, or the longer days perhaps. I'm sure both play into the equation to some extent. Certainly the abundance of games on television add to my springtime malaise*.

The dreams started, as the always do, about two weeks ago. And they always start out the same. It's me, and a couple of guys I used to play ball with, walking to a baseball field, or sitting in a dugout.

As usual, we're talking and joking and getting ready for the coming game.

The rest of our guys show up, the opposing team makes their way to the field, and we're about to get started. We're about to run out onto the field for the game.

Then I realize I've left my glove at home. Or I'm missing a sock. Or my hat. I have the wrong jersey sometimes, and other times I'm at the wrong field altogether, at the wrong game with the wrong team.

Those dreams are frustrating, but they don't bother me that much.

Strange as it sounds, it's kind of nice just to be in a dugout, with friends from a long time ago. Guys I haven't spoken to in years. Guys I grew up with, and spent entire summers with. Guys I lived with, and ate with, and beat the heck out of bitter rivals with.

Like I said, those dreams are okay.

It's the other dream that gets me. It's the other dream that wakes me up in the middle of the night and leaves me feeling empty and tired and a little remorseful.

In the other dream, I have all of my equipment, I'm at the right field, and the game has started. The dream differs in that, sometimes the starting point is different. It's always early in the game, but my team is either in the field or at bat.

When we're in the field, I'm behind the plate, as usual (I was a catcher in another life), and my pitcher gets the last out. We run off the field and get ready to hit. In the variation of the dream, we're already in the dugout, ready to hit.

Either way, I'm always up third.

I watch as the first hitter gets on base. A single to right field. And I walk over to the on-deck circle, and study the pitcher against whom I will hit in mere moments. I take a couple of practice swings, and I watch my teammate hit a line drive to left, solid and resounding as it falls in front of the outfielder.

There are two men on base, and I walk towards home plate.

Everything is where it's supposed to be; players are in the right position, fans are up on the familiar hill in left field. Everything feels right. Everything is real.

And so I look down at my third base coach who is simply clapping and not giving any signs, and I dig into the batter's box, and I look out at the pitcher, and I wiggle the bat out in front of home plate to time his release.

And then I wake up.

Every. Single. Time. I wake up.

I don't get to see a pitch. I don't get to drive in the two runners on the bases. I don't get to have my at-bat. I just wake up, and my right shoulder hurts. Or my back aches. Or my knee pops as I climb out of bed, and back into the real world.

Like I said, this time of year is the worst.

But it's not as bad as it used to be, back when the wounds were still fresh. Back when my teammates were all still playing, and I had to sit back and watch. Today, there's only one old friend still playing. And he's in the Big Leagues, pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals.

I played with guys who were good. I played with guys whose ability floored me. I caught pitchers who threw in the 90s, and I watched opposing players hit baseballs to places they had no place reaching.

I made great friends, and some bitter enemies.

It's a funny word, when you think of its real world context. Enemies. But I'll be darned if it isn't true. Baseball is like that sometimes, I guess.

I had some painful injuries, and in college, they came one after the other. A torn labrum in my throwing arm, an ankle sprain that put a knee-length cast on my left leg, a broken jaw. Sometimes it seemed like I spent more time rehabbing injuries than I did out on the field.

Probably because that's how it happened.

There were moments of great joy for me, personally, and for the teams I played on, there were more good memories than a person should be entitled to in a lifetime, and there was heartbreak. But baseball, as they say, is like life.

It's unforgiving and cut-throat and beautiful and frustrating.

I have plenty of baseball stories, and since it's the season for them, I hope to relay a few of them here on the blog in the months ahead. But for today, thanks for listening. I've never put my feelings about the game to words before.

(*By the way, "My Springtime Malaise" is © and ™ EyH Productions.)


Scott said...

If I had a top five, or even a top three favorite post list for Exfanding, this would be in it, if not heading it.

I'm not a big baseball guy, even though I appreciate fiction about it. That probably stems from the fact that I was an absolutely terrible baseball player -- in six years of playing baseball in elementary school, I caught one ball (which, incidentally, won a game) and hit maybe a handful of fouls. Terrible.

I have to ask, though... if you could go back in time and redo it, would you push yourself less hard in order to preserve your body and be able to play baseball longer? Or would you put in the same amount of effort and do it all over again?

AJG said...

Thanks for the kind words, Scott--I appreciate them. And thanks for being the one to push me towards writing about my baseball days. I'm really enjoying putting the thoughts down on (virtual) paper.

As for your question, it's one I've thought about often. Sometimes, I think I would have been better off being a pitcher--playing every five days or so. And sometimes I think I would have been better off being a golfer. (And sometimes I think I would have been better off joining the circus.)

But in the end, I don't think I would change anything.

When I stopped playing, I did so because I didn't feel like I was physically able to play at the level I had in the past--my throwing arm was (and still is) a wreck.

But I could still hit, and I was having a really good preseason. Most likely, I would have had a good number of at-bats as the Designated Hitter.

Even so, I had to hang 'em up.

I just wouldn't have been able to play at a level that was anything less than when I was at my best. And I was only able to get to that level because of all the work I put in--I was definitely not naturally gifted in the athleticism department.

Scott said...

You know, at one point in the past I was thinking that you should try reading some Japanese comics (manga) about baseball since they tend to be pretty detailed/realistic, with a few exceptions... but now I wonder if they might not be too bittersweet, since a lot of them deal with injuries and overcoming them.

AJG said...

I'd still be interested in checking them out--which ones would you recommend?

Scott said...

Major [] follows an incredibly confident boy as he grows up; from before he can join Little League, to Little League, then injury, junior high, senior high, and on. It's pretty long, but pretty good... and a neat look at Japanese baseball strategy and a character who doesn't really fit in because he's so good.

Ookiku Furikabutte (Swing Big) [] is the other way around -- it's Japanese baseball with a pitcher who's not confident at all. It's all about teamwork and strategy.

Scott said...
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