I’ve written occasionally about baseball. Here are some assembled thoughts.
Calling All Stars
Driving home up 75 from the ballpark Monday night, I tuned in to 700WLW. It was a call-in show, and the people calling in were dizzy from the spectacle of the Home Run Derby. Some were probably dizzy from other things. One guy couldn’t stop talking about the dogs catching frisbees they had on the field before Todd Frazier’s last at-bat, a call punctuated with “man” a lot that reminded me of old baseball interviews in the 70s. But no one faulted him for that. He just kept talking about how he loved those dogs catching frisbees, man, almost as much as he loved Todd Frazier. Others called in too to talk about the hum in the air, I was there too, it was amazing. And the word everyone on the call-in show kept mentioning: magic. It was a night of magic.
People use the word “magic” a lot. They use it to describe love, and music, and a night that rises above all others in their memories. They use the word magic to talk about religion. Miracles: loaves and fishes and past lives. I’m shy about using this word, possibly because I actually do believe in magic. I believe in a confluence of events and experiences that is too hard to explain, but mostly I believe in the magic of the feeling you get when that happens. Too many magical things have happened in my life not to believe in it. And even if I didn’t believe in it before, I couldn’t not after All-Star Weekend here in Cincinnati.
I’ve been looking forward to it for more than a year, which could have left me ripe for a letdown, but a letdown never came. Almost from the start, the whole thing was magic. On the first day I walked into FanFest, the first person I saw was Rollie Fingers, and there next to him, George Foster, surrounded by adoring Reds fans, and Luis Tiant, who I’d recently read about in Game Six, Mark Frost’s great account of the 1975 World Series. At the free Demi Lovato concert, we were magically upgraded to VIP, where behind us the crowd’s phones were lit up like firelflies, and afterwards fireworks lit up the sky as we danced on the field of Paul Brown Stadium, giddy from the beginning of everything.
Sunday was, as my friend Emily said, like a fever dream. We sweated it out in the bleachers. I received my commemorative All-Star Futures Game Sunburn, my skin as red as the stitches in a baseball. The Legends & Celebrity Softball Game made no sense if you tried to recount it as if it were just another ballgame: there was Macklemore hitting in the park home runs, Snoop Dogg jumping over fences and running spirals around bases, Eric Davis in shorts, Chad Lowe diving to catch a foul. Nick Lachey admitted playing left field was harder than it looked. Sean Casey went yard 3-3, Vlad Guerrero, 4-4. There was little logic to the game itself either: there may or may not have been five outs in the top of the 3rd. Hocus pocus.
And it didn’t stop. At one point on Monday, I found myself sitting in front of the world’s largest baseball, waiting for the appearance of Todd Frazier. And then he was there. And his family. And then, jumping the line: Johnny Bench. The crowd went nuts.
But these events were just the sleight-of-hand card trick prelude to the disappearing Statue of Liberty main event: The Home Run Derby. It was Cincinnati magic all round: Walk The Moon played, local boys at the top of the charts. Then Ken Griffey Jr. pitched a ball to his dad. Then more magic: in the first round, a long ball cut left and foul, a man in a red shirt and a laminate leaped up and caught it two-handed. “That was Sean Casey,” said Emily. I gawked. The bleachers started chanting: “CA-SEY, CA-SEY…” as The Mayor pumped his fist holding the ball. And the star of the night was undeniably Todd Frazier, who had the whole stadium behind him, chanting his name. All of us as one. As each little white ball spun and arched toward us in the bleachers, causing our section to scream collectively and reach for the night sky, I turned to Emily and said the only sentence my brain could manufacture in that moment: “I’m going to lose my sh*t if Todd Frazier wins this.” Even if he had lost, we would have been chanting his name. But he won. HE WON. I lost my sh*t. Fireworks. Torn pieces of Chinese newspapers falling from the sky like confetti. Magic.
We walked back to the car, stopping on the way to watch a father and son quietly playing catch in the shadow of the Roebling Bridge, on a grassy patch near the carousel. The sound of ball hitting leather, back and forth, no words spoken between the two, but each throw was an I love you, and I love this night. That night the sky was criss-crossed with knots of lightning, as if the electricity from the ballpark fans had taken flight and ignited the sky.
I stood inside Moerlein as the windows of the atrium buckled against the rain and winds. Someone screamed as water started pouring in through gaps in the roof sheeting. After the storm passed, a few of us went outside and inspected a fallen treetop lying feet away.
But then suddenly, like magic, the skies cleared. Within an hour, a cold front had come through, and the weather could be described as nothing short of beautiful.
I had dressed up for the night. A red vintage dress on which I’d used red thread to re-sew a hook and button onto hours before, red sandals, red toenail polish, red lipstick. I was dressed for church. And it was church: Buster Posey knelt in the outfield doing his stretches as the sun reflected off the lights and created a stained-glass pattern on the grass. The grounds crew had mowed rays extending out from home plate like a banner hung at an altar. Before I even got inside, after paying my respects to the icon of Johnny Bench, I moved away to head for the gates, when who but Eric Davis walked by, looked me in the eye, and seeing my expression of pure reverence, winked. The rains washed away the heat like a baptism, and we were all blessed again with beautiful weather. Little fluffy clouds and a breeze from the north.
The event was like no other, beginning from the beginning, when Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose appeared before us, like priests in red jackets (though not without sin). Then there were the elders, the greatest living legends: Bench again, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Hank Aaron. It had the most chillingly magical event anyone could have written: Koufax throwing out the first pitch to Johnny Bench, or as I bet most hometown fans would prefer to call it: the first catch. The game itself was full of the moments that make me believe in baseball: Mike Trout with a lead off home run, deGrom’s ten-pitch inning, Chapman’s multiple 103s. My scorebook is a mess of substitutions, but the names that are there are living legends too, legends in the making. We all know that Mike Trout will go down in history. And we got to see him there in the outfield, in the flesh, from our bleacher seats, in our church clothes.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have become a believer in this city, a true faithful. I was a little bit afraid of having such a large event in this city, thinking it might destroy my belief a little, especially surrounding a sport I love so much. I feared the usual sporting event drunken nonsense, but I saw little of it. The whole city was like that father and son playing catch after the Home Run Derby. It was Pete Rose waving at the crowd, and the crowd crying back, a mutual forgiveness taking place there on the field and in the stands. It was the gentle face of Willie Mays as the crowd chanted G.O.A.T. and fans leaning forward in their seats to see Mike Trout make a beautiful catch with ease. It was the reverence we all shared for what was happening down there on the field.
I have come to believe, more than anything, in how this city does baseball.
Magic, though, is ephemeral. As soon as some rainbow appears, it disappears. The fact that it was so short-lived makes it all the more magical. Did you see it? Were you there?
I went to my computer to look for the photos I’d uploaded from my phone from the weekend before deleting them to make room for the All-Star Game, and they were gone. All those blurry photos of Todd’s home runs, all those photos of Snoop Dogg running bases. The photo of Ty Cobb’s jersey with the elephant patch, of Wade Bogg’s glove, of Luis Tiant’s fist wearing a World Series Ring, and Pete’s satin jacket. Photos of Tony Perez and Fred Lynn. Photos of Todd and Johnny in front of the world’s largest baseball, totally in awe of each other.
This weekend was like the sun burning its image into your eyes as it sets behind the stadium lights. And just like the bright blindness, the magic of this weekend has started to fade – the great comedown. I still sit here, wanting to talk about and think about nothing but baseball, while everyone else has started to move on.
The signs of the All-Star Game will fade from this city. The mustache and pillbox hat, in spite of all protests, will come down from the Scripps Center. As we left the stadium Tuesday night, the stores along Walnut Street were already selling All-Star gear at 50% discount.
But when I dig deep, even though the pictures are gone, even though the weekend is over, the feeling of magic is still there. I don’t have a picture of Eric Davis winking at me, but I’ll remember that feeling forever. I don’t have a picture of what Johnny Bench whispered to Todd Frazier next to the world’s largest baseball, but something was said that made Todd laugh. My red nail polish will chip, the mustache and pillbox will be gone, Todd won’t play for the Reds forever, but this city will never forget this All-Star weekend.
Did you see it? Were you there?
What I Didn’t Say To Mat Latos
Last night I decided to treat myself to seats near the dugout at a Reds game. I’d sat close to the field once before, and was amazed at how being at eye-level with the baseball action changed your experience of the game. Watching the arc and delivery of the pitch, being able to see the mound actually rising up out of the ground, watching the players’ expressions between pitches — it all adds to the narrative I find so attractive in baseball.
Just before the game started, I found my seat, and watched as kids and grownups lingered at the edge of the Reds dugout, where pitcher Mat Latos stood on a bench, a bag of pumpkin seeds in his mouth, signing balls and hats for the fans. I liked the experience of witnessing this moment, so close and personal. I started taking pictures with my film camera. He then walked over to the side where I was standing and began signing for the fans standing next to me. I snapped a few pictures with the Canon, then for safe measure, one or two with my cell phone.
Then Mat Latos pulled the bag of pumpkin seeds from his mouth and looked up at me.
“Hey. Can I ask you a question?”
I was stunned into momentarily silence. A beat. Then: “Uh, sure?”
“Why would you want a picture of me in your cell phone?”
Thinking he might be emphasizing the difference between my cell phone and the Canon, I nodded towards it, saying, “well, really it’s just a backup in case this one doesn’t turn out.”
“No, I’ve just always wondered. Like, see all these people here — her…” he points to a girl with a pink iPhone case, who giggles at the recognition then snaps his picture, “they’re all taking my picture. I’ve never liked having my picture taken. Y’all have more pictures of me than my mom. I even bought her a camera.”
“I guess we all just want to be able to show a picture to our kids 50 years from now to say we had this interaction with the great Reds pitcher, Mat Latos.” That’s what I said. Because I didn’t have a better answer on the tip of my tongue at the time.
What I didn’t say to Mat Latos: You’re a celebrity pitcher for a major league baseball team, you’re on baseball cards, you’re up on our television screens. Kids have your stats memorized and girls coo over your tattoos to their beleagured boyfriends. How can you wonder why anyone would want a picture of you in their cell phone?
What I didn’t say to Mat Latos: How is a photograph any different than the autographs you’re signing now? It’s all proof of an encounter, proof of existence: see, I really DID meet Mat Latos. The suffix -graph, from the Ancient Greek γράφω, means “to scratch, to scrape, to graze.” A moment scratched into memory through the recording of it. Picture or it didn’t happen. Autograph or you weren’t really there.
What I didn’t say to Mat Latos: I’m a documentarian. I collect moments in life in photograph form so that I don’t lose them. This is not just a picture of Mat Latos, but of that day in my life, a hot day in early September, when the cornstalks had begun to go brown and the cicadas had started to die, when I drove myself down to the ballpark singing along to Whitney Houston and sat near the dugout and watched Mat Latos sign hats and balls for his fans before a game. I might not even remember the game (I hope I don’t: a terrible 9-1 loss to the Cubs, of all teams), but I’ll have a record of that moment. That day in my life. My little form of immortality; the only way I can feel life’s permanence. The only way any of us can feel like we’ll live forever.
He stopped signing for a moment, pen in hand, and gestured back and forth between himself and the crowd. “How is a picture any better than this moment we’re having here?”
I don’t know why he was asking me these questions. It honestly sounded like he’d never asked anyone before. Perhaps because I was a woman, older than the young girls waiting to have things signed, but not too old to be direct to without sounding impolite. Perhaps because I was dressed totally ridiculously that night, a bizarre approximation of a character out of A League of Their Own in a denim romper, vintage cap, and a red and white polka dot scarf wrapped around my waist, and he saw this ridiculousness and it broke the wall. Perhaps just because my cell phone camera was the only one that was making any noise.
But the fact that this question came to me, and I was reminded of The Moment and how we now experience things only through documentation, the fact that I was part of such a profoundly philosophical exchange with a baseball player — what I didn’t say to Mat Latos: you couldn’t have asked a bigger or more important question to me than the one you asked just now.
“Anyway, I’ve always wondered that.”
He smiled and continued his rounds, chewing pumpkin seeds and signing hats and balls for fans in the hot Ohio night.
Some Feelings About Baseball
I can’t be the only one who wishes there were more novels about baseball. The Natural, The Art of Fielding: these books tickled the right nerve center but still, to me, there wasn’t enough baseball in them. I want the novelization of an entire game; Casey At Bat stretched to 400 pages. A long form dramatic essay on each pitch, the chew of the gum by the manager as he leans his chin on his arms in anticipation of a double-play, a seven-page paragraph describing the twist of the back of the second baseman as he leans in to snag a line drive. This I would read! The hum and roar of the crowd as the third out is caught; their rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb as the manager comes to the mound to talk to his pitcher.
Where are all these stories buried? In a spiral notebook in a shoebox under a pack of baseball cards, the gum gone hard? Dig them out! I will read them.
* * *
News Reporter Voice: The Cincinnati Reds are having a good season. Apart from a few recent flops, they are at the top of their division, a heartbeat ahead of the Cardinals. A pitter-pattery heartbeat. So we decided, for my birthday, to go to a game: Reds vs. Brewers, Bronson Arroyo the starting pitcher.
It was the perfect night for baseball. Warm, sunny, a breeze rolling off the Ohio River. I’d had a few beers, and so felt loquacious enough to respond to the thirteen year old boy sitting next to me, who seemed to be speaking to no one in particular when he said: “I can’t tell when it’s a strike.” Our angle was side on to the pitch; we could see the ball headed to the plate, but not its precise target.
“I watch the catcher,” I said, tilting my head at him in a friendly and harmless middle-aged way. “If he doesn’t move, I assume it’s a strike.” I wonder if he’ll realize I have no idea what I’m talking about. The educated guess of a woman who only recently got back into the game.
The pitch, then a smack, and the ball flies into the home dugout. Foul.
The grown man at the kid’s side and I bemoaned the lack of initiative for a fielder to go after the ball headed into the dugout. “Baseball players don’t need teeth!” I said.
“Yeah, let’s make it more like hockey!” he said.
I waited for a woman selling refreshments to skip down the shallow steps into our section; when she arrived, I spotted the striped bag and shouted PEANUTS at her, maybe a little too loudly.
These were our distractions, high up in the stands: swallows swooping and diving into the infield, two mourning doves canoodling on a wire with the best view of the whole game. The woman in the seat in front of me with a large bag full of food and candy, texting the score to someone on an old Nokia phone, her granddaughters slap-fighting in the seats next to her. J was in the seat next to me, critiquing the musical choices made by the batters for their at-bat songs. He seemed particularly disturbed by the 3rd baseman’s choice of Coldplay.
These were our distractions: so many, that I didn’t even realize what was happening down there on the field. Why the rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb was growing louder with every inning, every strike, every fly ball caught, every time Phillips picked up the ball between first and second, paused, and threw to Votto for the out.
But it was because of this, and it was something I did not realize until it was much too late to appreciate: Bronson Arroyo, it appeared, was on his way to doing something special.
* * *
I pity heterosexual boys who are into baseball.
To be a heterosexual girl and to like baseball: we are allowed to find joy both in athleticism and in sporting crushes. To know when to shout “nice catch!” while at the very same time eyeing the lines created by broad shoulders, by the ballet of a knee or taut leg flung up from the ground prior to a pitch. Sure, men can admire the form of the players, the aesthetic. As they should. But I can’t help but think it’s different for us girls. (Even the old girls.) The swell in our hearts when the boy done good: it’s not just elation for the team; it’s the pitter-patter of a crush in the backs of our hearts, somewhere deep within the hormones agitated by feats of strength. It’s what makes us dress up for a game, even though these might not be the right shoes for the sport.
The girl in the bleachers who stands in support of Roy Hobbs at bat: the fact that she is a girl and he his a boy and she feels a swelling in her heart makes all the difference.
It’s because I’m a heterosexual girl who likes baseball that in the late 80s I began collecting baseball cards, and it’s because my heart once went pitter-pat for a man with a bat that my prized card was my 1987 Wade Boggs Topps card, which I’d cut down to size to fit the little frame I wanted to put on my bedside table.
And it’s entirely because I’m a heterosexual girl who likes baseball that I’ve developed a fascination with Bronson Arroyo. It started with a video of him covering the Foo Fighters “Everlong” at Reds Fest, which I found to be both perplexing and endearing. A baseball player who sings! A baseball player who is into alternative grunge and wears his hair in that style we crushed on so heavily in the 90s! A baseball player who wields an acoustic guitar! And then there was his form: the way that he lifts his leg, straight out, toe nearly level with his ear, before launching the ball. Balletic. Who IS this man?
Last night I was watching only him. And still I didn’t even realize.
* * *
It was the top of the eighth, Arroyo had just struck out another Brewer and my phone was buzzing with texts and at-replies on Twitter. “He’s clearly pitching for you tonight.” “I cannot believe you are at this baseball game. #Reds #BronsonArroyo” I was busy with my peanuts, stressfully cracking the shells into a cup at my feet, watching out of the corner of my eye as the balls sailed over the plate. Yes, he certainly is doing a fine job! I thought, still wondering why the rhubarb rhubarb rhubarbs were crescendoing at my back. They sure do like this guy, too.
I didn’t realize until I got home and read the reports why they were cheering the way they were, or why people were texting me: Arroyo had been seven innings on his way to a no-hitter. It wasn’t that I wasn’t paying attention: I just wasn’t that fan yet. My head wasn’t yet full of rules: 1) a player can hit the ball in a no-hitter, as long as it’s caught mid-air or caught and thrown to first for an out; 2) a player can reach the base in a no-hitter, as long as it’s on a walk. Don’t you worry your pretty little head over those complicated old rules, Zan. I would be the one to stand for Roy Hobbs, not even knowing why I felt compelled to stand in the first place.
I have a thing or two to learn.
And then it happened: the pitch, the crack, the ball deep into right field, dropping into the dirt, leaping up and tapping the 325 on the back wall. A hit. The crowd threw their hands at the field in frustration. (In my story, the crowd is composed entirely of men wearing fedoras, waving paper programs at the field. Because what is the apex of baseball if it’s not of the time when men wore hats to ballgames?) Another hit, and another, and the Brewers suddenly have three runs on the board. Dusty Baker approaches the mound.
Arroyo comes off and my heart goes pitter-pat as he walks into the dugout and throws his hat onto the bench.
Where was the novelist to write this game? The relief pitcher’s strikeout to close out the disappointing top of the eighth, the second home run in the bottom for a comeback, the crowd’s elation at the fireworks, the smoke drifting over the floodlights, Chapman’s double somersault at its climax? These are just the bones of the plot for our dear writer to write. Don’t let my words — the biased and rule-ignorant words of an old girl whose heart goes pitter-pat for a gracefully lifted leg — be the only words that will remember this game.
Of course, they won’t be: here are some, and some more. But the novelization of the game, the accounts of the many ways our hearts go pitter-pat: who will write that for me? An exhalation on the mound, the way a hat is tossed onto a bench? How his face contorted? The way the outfield dirt held the mark where the ball hit, a scarred reminder of What Could Have Been?
Who will write all the games? Dear writer: WRITE. I will read them.
More Feelings About Baseball
Last weekend I spent two days walking my boobs around a convention center. Or so it felt.
I want to write about being a woman at a sports convention. I had a lot of feelings about it. Many I can’t put into words. I don’t know where to begin. I guess boobs is as good a place as any to start.
I wasn’t the only pair of boobs walking the floor that day. There were a healthy number of women walking the convention floor, wearing red scoop-necked shirts that screamed REDS. Many carried backpacks filled with memorabilia, one had flown in from California to tell Danny Graves that she never held his departing gesture against him. Many pushed strollers. Some carried seats from the demolished Riverfront Stadium for their husbands, who carried baseball bats in tubes. (I could write another entire essay about people carrying around baseball bats in tubes.) There were also the Mrs.-es. They wore shirts that said Mrs. Votto, or Mrs. Bruce. Most of the Mrs.-es were on the arms of other men, presumably their husbands, sometimes pushing a stroller, always with their hair in place. Because the wife of Joey Votto would never leave the house with her hair out of place. (No, seriously: before I get too far into this, I have to mention how well put together everyone looked. I’m obviously not spending enough time getting ready in the morning.)
And then there were the rest of us. Childless, manless.
I dressed in a uniform I was comfortable in but that wasn’t too feminine: royal blue jeans and motorcycle boots, Cincinnati raglan shirt. I hid my hair (oh the historical implications of a woman hiding her hair!) under a gray tweed baseball cap. I haven’t done this in years: tomboy it up, tried to blend in. Stuff a load of baseball cards into my backpack so I can hang out with the boys. Pass.
With one difference: I felt obligated to apply lipstick before I had my picture taken. I did not do this to seduce baseball players, players I couldn’t even bring myself to put my arm around, instead hovering slightly above and behind them, letting them put their arms wherever they wanted to but too afraid to put mine anywhere because oh my god that’s a giant famous baseball player standing there next to me. Because I was not there to seduce them; I was there to have my picture taken with someone I admired on and off the field, because I enjoyed watching them out on that patch of green. Because they were a part of a team I loved and cheered for and groaned over and reveled in.
* * *
Photographs are, admittedly, something we put out there to seduce the rest of the world, or at least to memorialize our potential for seduction. And sometimes we invite attention we didn’t expect.
The day after Redsfest ended, I posted a photograph on Twitter of myself standing with three relief pitchers, amused by the fact that our photo had been bombed by the adorable kid of one of the pitchers. Soon after posting the photograph, I was contacted by someone who told me he liked my look and would be happy to get me into one of the baseball-themed t-shirts he produces. I realized as our conversation progressed that he was talking to the lipstick-wearing girl in the tight-fitting raglan shirt smirking at the camera without a husband or a baby in sight exactly the way that people assume a woman like that expects to be talked to, especially one who has just posted a photo of herself on the internet: Compliment her looks! Ask her if she works out! (I laughed at that one for a good ten minutes from prone position on the couch. Does lifting a chocolate chip cookie to my mouth count? Angles!)
To be fair, he was completely kind in our exchange. And this kindness, truly, is part of a greater conversation on how men are raised to be kind and flattering and complimentary towards women, while it’s this very same behavior that can make many women feel uncomfortable and, in the wrong context, even threatened. Sometimes we welcome the flattery, and other times it leaves us shaking with fear. In no way am I scolding this particular dude who was not in the least bit threatening. I’m just using him as a vehicle to get to my greater point of how my experience at the convention was colored by my gender.
As disarmed as I was by the conversation, I knew it wasn’t his fault. Or the fault of the guy sitting behind one of the baseball memorabilia tables that he felt the need to compliment my hat as I stood there admiring the design of the Topps Heritage cards. Or Eric Davis’s fault for calling me “cutie pie,”or my fault for smiling and gushing about it on Twitter when he did. It wasn’t my fault, or anyone’s really, for assuming that all the women standing in line wearing lipstick wanted to be kissed by Brandon Phillips. Or for noticing how it was mostly women who wanted their picture taken with Corky Miller, mostly women who wanted to hug Sam LeCure. (Though it’s pretty obvious that the beards at Redsfest – Cingrani, Miller, Hoover, LeCure – essentially acted as beards for women who love baseball. With the bearded ones, it was somehow just as socially acceptable for women to coo and ogle and fan themselves with convention floor maps as it was for us to stand there listening to them talk about how excited they are for the year ahead, which players they’re most afraid to face from the pitcher’s mound, how they keep fit between the end of the season and spring training, what they think of new manager Bryan Price.)
It wasn’t the behavior of a single individual that made it weird to be a woman at a sports convention; it was part of a greater culture. It’s the expected behavior toward a pair of boobs walking the floor at a convention center without a man or a baby or a backpack laden with sports memorabilia, wearing red lipstick. No one has formed the mechanisms yet for dealing with the unexpected phenomenon of a woman at a sports convention. Not even other women. Presumptions are made: She must be a Mrs. Votto; she must be here with her kid.
They don’t know how to deal with it any better than we do. It’s embedded in my own insecurities and defense mechanisms and feelings of competitiveness: I feel so out of place. I’m not like these other women.
When the truth is this: there’s a certain amount of privilege to experiencing a sports convention – and spectator sports in general – as a woman. I’ve already addressed how we get to appreciate things about baseball that men don’t. We’re asked philosophical questions. We’re some of the first chosen when we volunteer for a game of toss & catch with our favorite pitcher. (The moment I realized I was essentially being pitching coached by Sam LeCure in the art of throwing a ping-pong ball so he could catch it with a lint roller – “nice and easy, underhand, like this…” – was pretty wonderful.) We’re offered a sweeter laugh from the players when we crack bad jokes about standing on platforms to make ourselves taller in pictures. Our cameras are given flirtatious lickety-split smiles from Billy Hamilton. We’re okay to take selfies and get hugs. We have a bathroom all to ourselves. We’re allowed to let ourselves soften when we see a newly-signed player sitting there by himself, everyone else too afraid to talk to him, and even though we don’t have a lot to say, we talk to him, about how overwhelming this must all be, about how he likes Cincinnati so far, about how overwhelming this is for us too.
Our small talk is acceptable. Because we are women, because we wear lipstick. We get away with a lot more because we have ponytails. Because we are unexpected.
III. What Turns Us On
I think I finally get why some men say they can’t understand women. I’m trying to explain how I feel about being a woman at a sports convention and I can’t even make sense of it. It’s weird! People expect you to want to marry Joey Votto! or It’s great! The players are so nice to you and you get picked first for games!
The simplest explanations we give for our feelings as women are also sometimes the most contradictory. We ourselves are contradictions. We don’t do much to dispell the myth that we’re at the game to ogle the players, because, to be honest, maybe sometimes we are. We talk about how we would never want to seduce a baseball player, but love to talk about our crushes on them (though everyone knows that a crush is a just crush because there’s no intent behind it). We don’t do ourselves any favors by applying lipstick before we meet our favorite pitcher. Lipstick, I once read, is meant to mimic the flush of blood to the lips when a woman is sexually aroused. Because sometimes we probably are. But sometimes we just want to look good in pictures.
Even when we are getting off on something, it’s not necessarily by the physical presence of a man. For some of us it could be the idea that we’re standing in a room with a bunch of people (regardless of sex!) who are semi-immortalized on pieces of cardboard, making us part of some niche moment in history. For some of us it could be that we’re all collectively gathered together in a common spirit of love for a team, for a city, for potential and hope. For some it could be getting a picture of your two favorite beards in the same room, or finding a hat your size in the $10 bin. For some of us it could be the excitement of meeting someone we’ve long admired, realizing that nearly thirty years after we used to watch him in the outfield, even though Riverfront is a decade gone, we’re still both here on earth and we both have memories of that time and here he is signing our baseball card. For some of us it’s Chris Heisey. For some of us a lipstick is just a lipstick. For some, it could very easily be the simple beauty of the whole thing.
That might be what turns me on.
IV. A Different Kind of Buzz
I learned recently that Lorde based her song “Royals” on a 1976 National Geographic photograph she saw of Kansas City Royals player George Brett being offered a multitude of baseballs by fans to be signed. For those of you who don’t spend as much time as I do listening to car radio, the lyrics of the song go:
We can never be Royals
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of lux just ain’t for us,
we crave a different kind of buzz
I get this so much. The fact that the origins of the song lie in baseball makes it even more appropriate to what I’m trying to say.
Part of me wonders if the whole reason I feel so awkward, so desparate to prove myself at baseball games and conventions as a “true fan,” the whole reason I try so hard to learn how to keep score, that I worry so much whether or not I have the right card in my hand to be signed, is that these sports things weren’t intended for grown women. Of course there are women who are true fans who know the game inside and out. Of course there are female sportswriters. And of course there are women who grew up with baseball. But really I’m none of those. I wasn’t Doris Kearns Goodwin: my dad hated baseball, still does. I had to come to it on my own, as a fully grown woman with breasts and lipstick and hormones and still a love for the mathematics and artistry of baseball in the way Tom Seaver described it to Roger Angell:
Pitching is a beautiful thing. It’s an art — it’s a work of art when it’s done right. It’s like a ballet or the theatre. […] When you do it, when you can sense sometimes that it’s been done right, it’s an extraordinary feeling. It’s the most beautiful thing in sports.
Or as Eve Babitz writes in Slow Days, Fast Company:
The baseball field below was gorgeous. It was the first I’d ever seen, but I’m sure other people must think it’s a beautiful one. The grass all mowed in patterns like Japanese sand gardens and the dirt all sculpted in swirling bas-relief. “It’s so beautiful,” I gushed.
I find baseball, like Eve Babitz and Tom Seaver, simply beautiful. When I finally came to baseball, and it appeared to me that there was room for me only as a Mrs. Votto or a peanut shucking statistician with a hot dog paunch and a sunburn, I didn’t know where to place myself. (Though I’m working on that hot dog paunch.)
And so I’m left wanting to make a place for myself in this world as a grown-up woman who has suddenly become really interested baseball the same way Lorde describes wanting to be a Royal: I crave a different kind of buzz. It don’t run in my blood, but I’m injecting it anyway. Because I find the whole thing beautiful and enjoy the proximity to beauty.
V. “For the sake of feminism and for the sake of baseball.”
I suppose I wrote this whole thing for a purpose and maybe that purpose is this:
The entire problem might come down to a word I relied far too heavily on in what I’ve written up to now, a word even Lorde relies on in her song: the collective “we.” The assumption is that we as women have everything in common, when, really, we’re all just a bunch of “I”s – even those like me who have yet to figure out what “I” means among a mess of “we”s – enjoying an impermanent “we” for the sake of team spirit. For the sake of feminism and for the sake of baseball.
Let some women be the Mrs. Vottos. Let some women wear scoop-necked shirts. Let some be Fox Sports Ohio girls. Let others shove their babies into the arms of a patiently waiting Jay Bruce, let some carry heavy backpacks laden with signed baseballs. Let some know statistics. Let some keep score. Let some now be the ones entering the batting cage. Let some be the ones who find beauty in the way the dirt is raked between the bases, the way the setting sun hits the outfield wall.
Let us each have our own reason for being there too.
© Zan McQuade 2012-2016. All rights reserved.