10.06.2010

There is Crying in Baseball


Like many Americans, I eagerly awaited Ken Burns' four-hour addendum to his 1994 video series on baseball. I set my VCR for consecutive nights last week, and then watched each two-hour set the next morning, once while running on the treadmill and once while doing push-ups and sit-ups. But even exercise could not keep me from shedding tears freely at times, laughing aloud at other times, and getting goose bumps still other times.

There is something about baseball that taps into something really deep for me. And I know I'm not alone. Why, much of this documentary is about people's intersection with our national pastime. There was the Boston father who wondered what he done to his kids in raising them as Red Sox fans and watching them get crushed by disappointment after disappointment, only to see them beam with pride when their beloved team finally won it all in 2004. There were thoughtful comments about our conflicted reaction to the game's steroid scandal in the midst of record home run years and record attendance. And there was the speaking, in hushed tones, of the reverence and comfort of sitting in a ballpark on a hot summer evening with 40,000 other fans.

I'm not sure where my tears were coming from, although the 9/11 segment certainly brought back memories. Upon further reflection, I think the emotion is because baseball channels me back to my childhood days, and channels me forward to the days when I will no doubt tell my kids and grandkids about the grand old game. There is an innocence to baseball that, even in the midst of greed and deception and abuse, it can conjure up earlier days for me when I didn't have to worry about a job and a mortgage and two kids and college savings and the stock market. It is a purity and a continuity I long to share with my kids, and that longing reminded me how much I love my kids and how much joy I will get in sharing with them some of my greatest childhood memories.

As if on cue, two little critters pawed at the door to our living room at 5:45 on the second morning of watching the documentary. They were up early, yes, but they had put their clothes on all by themselves, and just wanted to say good morning to me before they headed back upstairs to watch Sleeping Beauty. Such purity, such innocence, such childlikeness. I gave them an extra special hug and told them I loved them.

I was still thinking of them when the documentary ended and I headed back into my bedroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I was wearing a suit, my hair graying a little on the edges. Behind me was a painting my sister did for me a number of years back, of me and my mom at the beach when I was but four or five years old. It was around that time I began my love affair with baseball. It's around the age of my kids right now. And that's what baseball means to me: it's a portal back to that age of purity and innocence, when all I cared about was being able to make that catch or did Rickey Henderson get any stolen bases the night before, a portal I can now connect my kids to so as to build that connection for them.

I'm not explaining all of this very well, because the thoughts are just tumbling out now. But suffice to say that there is a lot of emotion in all of this. Baseball, like America and like all of us, is beautiful in its flaws and flawed in its beauty, and beautiful and flawed nonetheless. Put it all together, and you'll get me tearing up even as I pound out the miles or the push-ups on a September early morning.

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