Baseball’s Return

The KC Royal’s home opening game was last night, and I turned on TV to see the boys of summer play America’s pastime. The steady hum of the crowd sounded happy until a few camera shots panned the empty stadium—then it felt bizarre.

I’m not actually a big baseball fan, but it has been a part of my life for a long time, so I’ve missed it.

As a youngster, I watched my dad play baseball on the town team against other small towns in Arkansas. They didn’t actually have uniforms; they just wore their street clothes. When we moved to Missouri and my brothers were of Little League age, I was hauled to the ballpark and debated through early innings on how I’d spend the nickel I had for the concession stand. A long-lasting Sugar Daddy usually won.

Jim played baseball in Wichita—a southpaw pitcher and first baseman who lettered on the varsity team his sophomore year. Then he moved to Neosho where there was no high school baseball team, a cultural shock. But of course, he encouraged our three sons to take up the sport.

From the time when Landon started tee-ball to when Marshall finished senior league, seventeen straight seasons involved practices and games, sometimes three games a night on different fields. That means I’m familiar with the insides of several concession stands and know how to affix hotdogs on their skewers and dip up nachos in those little cardboard trays.

Our huge back yard sported a home field. Jim built a backstop out of heavy wire fencing, and the infield inherited real bases from my youngest brother’s baseball days. Mom had made them out of heavy off-white canvas, and they looked professional, a foot square and a couple inches deep, filled with sawdust. On occasion they would be left out in the rain. Then I’d open a seam, empty the sawdust out on newspapers to dry, then make the boys refill them the next day. Those times were accompanied with finger wagging and a lecture on responsibility for equipment.

Our first big family vacation was a baseball trip to Chicago. We took the L to the Cubs’ Wrigley Field, and I was mesmerized watching the sailboats on Lake Michigan, visible from our nose-bleed seats. We sang Take Me Out to the Ballpark with Harry Caray during the seventh-inning stretch. When the stands thinned out, we moved to seats behind home plate, which wasn’t as nice since I couldn’t see the lake.

The next night we sat in the old Comiskey Park and saw Jose Canseco hit one high out of the park, which was called foul, but we didn’t believe it. He was robbed. We weren’t rooting for the White Sox, but for individual players. The boys had all their baseball cards, which are still downstairs in a closet, filed alphabetically and by team in special white boxes.

Our next stop was St. Louis and Busch Stadium. By this time, I could take no more baseball. Of course, I carried a book in my purse, so I sat amidst Cardinal noise and read, glancing up occasionally when the roar of the crowd brought me out of the story. In other years we saw the Colorado Rockies when they played in Mile High Stadium and the New York Yankees in the Bronx.

I’ve seen the Royals play several times, but the time that stands out is when Jim and I went to KC to the game with Morgan and his new girlfriend, Corrie. I sat by her, and although I like posing 20 questions, I filled her with erstwhile stories of Morgan’s youth, while he hunched lower and lower in his seat. I didn’t scare her off since, dear reader, she married him.

Their tradition is going to the home opener each year. This year, they watched it on TV, the same as I did, although I only watched for ten minutes to get my baseball fix for the year. Oh, I might turn it on again some evening, just to hear the happy noise of the fake crowd.

Gentle Persuasion by [Veda Boyd Jones]Opposites and Compromise–Injured in a ski accident that ended his Major League Baseball pitching career, Dallas Stone opens a sporting goods store in a small Missouri town. Julie Russell teaches English in the high school and is from such a sports-minded family that it turns her against sports in general. An unlikely pair? Absolutely. But can gentle persuasion bring them together?
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