“Seasons of Perfection”

 

by Ryna May

 

 

            Every April through October I can be found worshiping at the church of the blessed diamond.  I’m a third generation baseball fanatic, and I know all about the ups and downs, the blown saves and great comebacks that are inherent to our national pastime – and I absolutely LOVE it.  I have grown to love baseball because every boy always told me that I couldn’t play it.  There’s a secret here that boys don’t want girls to know: they can play it, and they can be a lot better than the boys are.  My brother Bryan and I played baseball together in little league.  He didn’t want me to play because I was a year younger than he was, and way better, and oh yeah, I’m a girl.  So my mom thought it would be a good idea if we played on different teams – he for the McMinn County Reds and me for the McMinn County Astros.  In high school Bryan worked hard at it, and soon baseball was my brother’s best sport – it was the only sport that he was better at than me, and just barely.  In his senior year of high school, he got on base every single time that he came to the plate – a perfect season.  I really admired that, but I never told him.  It’s against the code of sibling rivalry to congratulate one another for anything at all – a stupid code I now think.  It’s not the only thing I never praised him for.  There is a litany of silences that I regret now in the way that you can only regret things you will never get to do.   After my brother died in 1993, my mother asked me if there were any of his things that I wanted.  Of all his things, the only thing I really wanted to take was his baseball jersey – a visible part of his history.  The way that I remember him in this jersey, in his life, is spotless.  It’s a trick of the memory to clothe people in their best possible robes after they are gone, like a jersey worn in a season of perfection.

            When I was seven, our father took us to a minor league baseball game to see the Chattanooga Lookouts play.  They are named the “Lookouts” because there is a great mountain near Chattanooga called Lookout Mountain.  It’s the only really prominent thing in Chattanooga other than the famous choo-choo train, and no team of men wants to be called the “Choo-Choos” I guess.  We sat very close on the third base side of Lookout Stadium.  My dad told me to bring my glove in case there was a foul ball hit our way.  I was seven, but he was certain that I could catch the ball if it came near me.  He taught me to play ball before he taught my brother.  Bryan wasn’t very coordinated when he was a kid.  Dad thought that I was a prodigy.  He showed me how to throw a fastball and a curveball, but before he died in 1981, he never had time to show me how to master a slider.  I have never been able to learn.  This was the first and last game my dad ever took us to, and it seemed like it was going to be perfect.  A few innings into the game I got the chance that I had been hoping for: a foul ball was hit my way, but it was coming too fast and I was not ready for it.  I was lost in the pink and blue fury of my cotton candy, and even though I did have my glove on, it was whizzing past my right ear and smacking the seat behind me before I could even move the mitt.  It was the sound of my father’s disappointment.

            When I was nine and ten and eleven, I spent summers with my grandparents.  I remember the summer evenings that stretched out lazily into warm, dark Tennessee nights and the apparition of curtains that advanced and retreated eerily in the soft night breeze, carrying the sweet smell of crab apples and wet grass and wood and coal from the shed on the hill.  My Papa Odum was a baseball nut.  He watched games all day, every day, whenever they were on, and when he went to bed at night, he listened to the games on the radio.  It is this ritual of listening that I remember most clearly, the way the game sounded on the old clock radio.  It’s the kind of clock radio with the flip numbers, the kind that growled instead of shrieking, the kind that clicked methodically.  The sound on the radio was never good; neither was the reception.  But Papa Odum always seemed to be able to find “the ballgame” no matter what.  The games were quiet and far away.  The announcers droned on over the restless buzzing of the fans: “Two outs now, and Mattingly to the plate with nobody on…he digs in and takes a called strike… 0 and 1 the count now on Mattingly in the top of the fourth….the Yankees trailing 3 to 1…”   The windows were always open at night, allowing for the most glorious concert of sounds – the baseball game, but not only that; the baseball game and my grandfather’s heavy sleep-breathing; the baseball game, and sleepy breathing, and creaking of the house, and the mad crickets and the whispering rain… 

            With its tragic ease, baseball is both dull and wonderful in its perfection; but it’s the imperfections that provide the real opportunities for humor and grace.  There is a peace and rhythm to baseball that no other sport can imitate, and this is precisely because baseball is about the so many things in-between, the so many lost moments.  Like the way that the crowd lulls in lethargy between pitches, between batters, between innings; like our mistakes of silence – things we don’t say, things we’ll never be able to say. 

            I love baseball because it helps me remember to remember moments. It reminds me to revere moments of imperfect life and preserve them in perfect memory.  For me, baseball is a day at the park with a favorite friend, sitting in the stands with a beer and a hot dog, Cal Ripken breaking the streak, cotton candy stuck to the pocket of my mitt, Mike Schmidt hitting his 500th home run, the foul ball that sails just over my head, Harry Carey calling the game for the Cubs, the organ music – out of tune, Sid Bream, with his leg brace on, sliding home to beat the tag and win the ALCS, the seventh inning stretch, Derek Jeter diving to his right to stop a ground ball, rally caps, the ground ball dribbling between Bill Buckner’s legs, full counts, and Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers hobbling into the batter’s box and hitting the ball clear out of the park in October of 1988 in the World Series.  Even in its imperfection, baseball is still about the remembered seasons of perfection; they are the stuff that dreams are made on, and so much more: the way that we remember the suddenly ubiquitous smell of grass, the first warm, long evenings, disappointment, childhood, failure, fathers, brothers, and histories. 

 

2001