Well baseball is back. Usually this would cause me to excitement, my “finally we’re out of the doldrums of Winter” yearly mark, pitchers and catchers, even with Winters no longer being the Winters we knew (it’s real dumbasses) making me look to my too many years old glove next to the TV under another offseason worth of dust, shake it off, give it a wipe, rinse repeat for so many years and so look forward to the Spring and the Summer it promises.
Though it won’t be the same game, my “looking forward” taking a serious hit (Rob Manfred has made sure of that) numbers now soon to be skewed, extra inning games off the table for me for good, a large grain of salt taken in the new ABB (after big bag) / AS (after shift) era, a cheapened version of a national treasure, but I am still an addict.
An addict who will still buy my single team package however much the checkbook pop, again. I will though miss those extra games against division foes now lost to a balanced schedule (sorry, don’t care of matchups with the Royals or the Tigers or even the Yankees, heck, even less the Yankees actually).
Anyway, a reminder of my always love of the game, a So Then Sunday, an audio post from last September after catching a game with Jeremiah Johnsen after too long a time.
If I would rank things of mine, this would be up there.
So a few nights ago I watched the best ballgame of the season, for me at least, with my MLBTV subscription, something I’ve paid for every year since its inception to catch my beloved out of town boys, even when I couldn’t afford it, which has been often. Now as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan it’s not really all that difficult to differentiate between the other “best ballgames of the season” that have come before this one as, well, like I said, I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, there haven’t really been a whole lot to choose from, not a lot to “Raise the Jolly Roger” to in too infrequent texts to my Sis these days, after a win, our thing, even the not so memorable ones, any victory, especially since the All Star Break this year can be considered memorable I guess.
There was the sweeping the Dodgers in LA for the first time since someone from a Darwin text first started grabbing sticks and hitting stones with ’em (though probably more just simple defense from the stones being thrown AT them from others in a Darwin text – no game yet, not quite, but maybe thoughts a bubblin’). We split a couple with the dreaded hated Yankees earlier in the season when they came down from the Death Star to visit Pittsburgh and get some thick breaded sandwiches with thicker fries and coleslaw on ‘em ‘n that and we did get back at and have a sweep of the Brewers who have owned us in a we’ll wear leather and spikes and hold a whip, you put on this mask kind of way for the longest of time.
But there hasn’t really been any other singular game moment to crow about, or to parrot Pirate squalk “aarrgghh matey’s” about from my shoulder until this one, just the waiting for late August and September to finally see some of the young Bucco’s of the future on a rebuilding team finally being allowed to play regularly, after dead weight DFA off the heap claim roster fills have finally been cast off, and show me some hope that I haven’t felt in , well longer than a while.
That waiting paid off with this “best game”, a combined one hit shutout highlighted by an electric kid’s nasty stuff, Luis Ortiz in his MLB debut. This game was hope. A long suffering Pirate fans hope
Now I’ve been a Pirate fan since I first discovered baseball, right around the time when they won only their second of three World Series since the cold war, only two in my lifetime and I was watching this “best” game with two different pairs of glasses, one for the close of the Tablet sitting to my left with the game and the other for distance of the TV for the almost good bad bad good movie I was also watching, that needing two pairs of glasses old now lifetime long.
It was Granddad who turned me black and gold when Grandma would allow me, and only me for some reason, to sit with him on some weekends when we would go to visit the two of them and the aunts and the uncles and the cousins. I’ve often joked that watching sports with Granddad back then (sometimes baseball or often bowling) usually with me sitting cross legged on the floor and he in his big chair in the big living room of a big old dusty breezy house was where I learned how to curse and throw shit at the tube, maybe consider a bowling team when I got to High School and be a Pittsburgh fan. Some Steelers yes, but most importantly the Pirates.
Went down to Citifield over the weekend for the first time since 2018, a yearly pilgrimage for a best of best friend of mine and I, Jeremiah, starting back In 2005 but paused in 2019 for what, I don’t remember what, though it must have been a something to cause a pause in a 14 year run and then came the the. Pandemics and useless 60 game seasons that I didn’t’ watch a single inning of for the first and only time in my long baseball fan life and then another year where I wasn’t ready just yet for not quite done pandemic crowds.
We thought, back in ’05, a trip down to Queens and still Shea Stadium back then, would be a cool get together moment for a new morning show crew and we eventually played fetching verbal tag with a group of pretty young women, out on their own cool get together moment in seats so far up and away from the field that we were like in baseball clouds. We knew there was a game going on somewhere down on earth, in between the lines, but we played this fetching instead and had such a time. Couldn’t even tell you who won that one. Baseball has that way, a way to make you sort of forget things even though you knew, a mine vs yours, or a mine vs them, as long as it was being played somewhere near you and you were there meandering, meandering with it as baseball wondrously meanders and you talking and laughing and paying attention on occasion.
But this past weekend Jeremiah and I caught a game again, finally, after these too many years, ones that sneak up on you and have you think of windows closing more than you’d like, years, and “breaking out the fancy chairs tonight” he said in his driveway with a lugging to the car fancy parking lot chairs for lounging pre-game dog grilling and sauerkraut heatin’ in a cat’s water bowl (hey, it’s what I had on hand. It worked for the warmin’ is enough as a good baseball hot dog don’t do cold sauerkraut) and upscale beers and spicy mustard awaitin’ some hot dog buns. And not just regular hot dog buns on this night mind you, no siree Bucco, but brioche hot dog buns, this was an occasion after all, you break out the brioche for an occasion I guess. I know. Nice touch right? I thought the same even though I have no idea what brioche is, other than it just ain’t some regular white bread fashioned as a hot dog bun. It’s fancy sounding where hot dogs ain’t fancy.
Everyone was asleep, or close to it as I grabbed that one seat at the back of the car, at now a quite happily baseball night spent almost 1 in the morning that allows you to ride WITH the train and with no one behind you, not ride backwards as some do. I don’t know how people sit in the “backwards” seats as traveling with your back to wherever you’re going is just so unsettling to me. Maybe if you’re with company, for the distraction Ok, but if you’re not with company as is always the case for me on nights like this you just grab that one seat, at the back, that one first step in if you can, that one one that points you forward.
Next to Jeremiah and I tonight was a family. A Mom and a Dad and five kids, all tremendously good looking, cover of a family magazine good looking, almost unfairly so to all the regular ol’ families out there, Mom and Dad troopers that took the gang out for a night at the ballpark all around 7 or 8 or younger, and did it so well that I wanted to go back to a trophy store that JJ and I had passed on our way and buy them just one javelin lookin’ throwing gold idol prize or something similar and say well done, maybe even engrave their names that I didn’t know on it. I wanted to buy them their own ice cream too that I watched dad so gingerly walk with, balancing five, while I was in the concourse on line for the loo. What a team these two were with this five. And that would be the emphasis of the story in that family magazine they were featured on the cover of by the way “How to balance five children at a ballgame and look good and accomplished while you’re doing it”.
Jeremiah noted to me that he didn’t think he could do that, have so many kids, his thoughts equally distracted and focused by the fact that he is in the family way, he and his better half, Britney, just a few month to go now, or 12 or so weeks in babyness parlance and he’s scared to death in the best and most understandable of possible ways.
Then Rodolfo Castro got a hit (I love that guy) not a lot of that kind of Pirate thing was happening on this night so I had moment for a hard clap clap into my glove and a holler of “you go Rodolfo!!” and before you ask, yes, I brought my glove as I have for every game since I was 13 at that double header with Dad and Granddad, where I met John Candelaria courtesy of a homemade Candelaria jersey and a chance bumping into his suddenly excited and beaming parents as we were heading out of the ballpark, mom spinning me around to show her husband the back of this “jersey” maybe realizing for the first time what their son had achieved to reach all the way to the suburbs and to some 13 year old kid who spent his hard pedaled earned bicycle paperboy money to fashion a sort of jersey of his favorite ballplayer and then head to a game, two of them (what a bonus that was) with a Dad and a Grandad, to show it off with glove in hand.
You’re never too old to bring your glove to the ballpark.
Just like then I still dream of foul balls.
After so many years of not doing this and so many years of not caring to do things LIKE this, I am famously anti-social in my own small circle these days, I finally let myself go a little bit. Train rides on the way down along a gloriously sun glinted Hudson River next to happy laughing college girls with some adventure waiting in the City while sportin’ the coolest of old school kicks, smiling couples being smiling couples with their own anticipated adventures in store and babies singing baby “La-La” songs, singing singing singing and bouncing at the front of the car with an on top of the world Mom & Dad showing bouncing baby off to strangers on a train but not in a dark mystery way, maneuverings through people in a packed stadium playing my soon 100 loss boys no less, as, of course, a playoff push will fill the seats no matter the competition, a multitude of too many folks almost but I endured for baseball’s sake, a ballpark’s sake, ordering a couple of beers from a tiny woman behind fried heat lamped somethings and beer taps who noted my birthday when I jokingly said my license read “Old dude” and admonished me ever not so slightly for her and I sharing a birth year “Hey, we’re not old!” with a pointed wagging finger.
I realized then that, though I don’t really do people anymore, they still have their moments.
That small woman gave me a fist bump before I left to go back to my seat, but with a smiling glare, a double fist bump as a matter of fact to our shared 1964 and the not feeling old, I mean, you can’t be old at a ballgame now can ya?
I didn’t completely talk Jeremiah off the ledge of thinking too much of the wonderful and the frightening and the down the roads but maybe I at least made him back up a bit on it, he knowing that I’m not totally unfamiliar with fresh off the line new baby models replete with working horns and racing stripes after having spent the first 5 years of my nephew Jake’s squirmy, screamy, grabby, happy, poopy existence in a house shared by his Mom (my sis), myself and my brother, the two of us playing Daddy-Uncles and I followed that almost immediately with another youngin’ just in the next stage of youngin’ evolution from 6 into the early teens with Jagger (The JG) and his Mom and I wrote of him and all of us quite often.
I was probably not really any good at this as I look back now, look back a long way as both Jake and JG are in their beginning 20’s, or maybe I was Ok for my short stints as both of them are really fine, smart and most importantly just good young men, but I did at least earn a couple of chops along the way, and an I love you and an I hate you and an I love you or two, so maybe enough cred there to at least get JJ’s toes off their curl on the edge.
I know it sounds silly, but baseball did this, it’s where this best of friendships really first began and this weekend it got me and him in a place where we could talk after too long a time as we always could and did at the ballpark, in a dog grilling parking lot, in a couple of really nice seats with cool strangers as momentary companions and especially on the ride “home” to a train station and a sit down at a little pub in Hastings waiting for the 12:27am, it got me out of the house, finally, reminded me of those multitudes at a ballpark, of life, of a Mom and Dad worthy of trophies and an extra ice cream they didn’t get to enjoy at the game after spreading it around, but maybe a reach into the freezer at home after a gang finished and in bed and toes then met on a couch sharing a spoon and a tired knowing nod to a night well done and spent.
You’ll be good JJ. I have absolutely no worries there, you’ll be really good. And maybe in a couple of years we’ll go back and do this again, you and I and Britney and a newbie, Grant, a name I’ve been told to expect and you’ll be the guy who catches a foul ball with a baby in his arms and makes the big screen in center field for replays and the best of “Awwwww” moments from a packed ballpark.
Thanks for the start Grandad, and I did do some bowling on a High School club team just to let you know, not very well, but I did.