Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Opening Day and the Starma Express

I think that it is no big surprise that my sport is baseball. It embodies not just entertainment for me, but so many intrinsics. This year however we stepped across the line into the metaphysical (kind of appropriate for the first home game of the season).

The plans for attending the Rockie’s home opener were as they should be, because they included myself, my wife, and our best buddy Susan the baseball slut. Jean-Marie had a meeting in Denver prior to the game which left Susan and I not only to our own devices but standing in some nameless intersection on the south end of Denver. This was best for Jean-Marie’s schedule and it was no big deal for Susan and I, as we could easily catch the light rail to down town and the stadium.

Once out of the car, we set off in the general direction of the nearest light rail stop, but knowing the direction in general is completely different than finding that thing specifically. Crossing the street we were separated from where we wanted to go by a campus of identical view blocking high tech industry buildings.

Shrugging we ventured forth hoping we were picking the right direction but having plenty of time to mess up. It was at this point while walking and discussing our confusion that an overly cheery voice from behind us called out, “The light rail? You guys going to the game?”

Turning we saw that the bubbly voice belonged to a young professional lady with an id badge dangling around her neck and a cup of Starbuck’s coffee in hand almost as big as she was. “You don’t need to go that way, just go this way and follow the road, then go between the two white buildings to a path that runs along the interstate and you will find the light rail.”

All the while I am thinking, “Go to the light…rail” and smiling inside. We thanked her profusely and she laughed and said we were lucky to be going to the game. From the way she quickly bounced out of sight, it was obvious that this was not her first cup of coffee for the day and probably would not be her last. We had a good laugh the rest of the day at her directions as there was not just a single pair of white buildings but many sets of them before us. Which had she meant? It didn’t matter, we had a more specific general direction, and she had her coffee – the circle of life.

Our auras had just been given a boost by an enlightened being high on life and caffeine to the point of achieving that blissful state simply known as Starvana. It was from that rarified place that she graced us with her wisdom and shared with us some good Starma earning some for herself in the process.

Writing Cowboys and Baseball Sluts

Starma in hand, we found the train and boarded a car full of Rockies faithful bound for Coors Field. Being some two and a half hours before the start of the game, this was a good omen. In no time the train dropped us near the 16th street mall and we grabbed a free shuttle from there to a point in the opposite direction from where Susan thought the ball park out to be. This is unusual as Susan general has the best sense of direction of anyone I know, but she was still recovering from a stomach and respiratory illness, so I generously cut her some slack.

From the bus we walked down 20th to Blake, and from the moment we set foot on that path we caught our first glimpse of Coors Field that we would have this season. It was all I could do to hold back the tears at the sight of my Cathedral and my expectations for the mass that is baseball with its communion of hotdogs and beer. As it was, I found myself blocking traffic in the middle of the street so I could get a picture of my first glimpse this season of those hallowed grounds.

With Mickey’s little hand on 11 and big hand on 6 we made our arrival only to find the stadium gates locked and guarded by the purple clad elderly for another half hour. I think we could have taken them in a fair fight, but numbers were not in our favor and besides, getting smacked by a walker could leave a mark. We would find something else to do before the noon time gate unlatching.

We talked it over and decided to head to the south side of the stadium and find “The Brick,” which coincidently not only is the item purchased by Susan and her sisters to honor their grandpa, but was also her grandpa’s nickname (coincidence? I think not). But before we could embark on this quest, I spied a familiar form out of the corner of my eye. Turning, I couldn’t believe it. There, walking by the gate we had just left was none other than Rocky Mountain News columnist, and Baseball Hall-of-Fame journalist Tracey Ringlesby! (Perfect name for an old-school baseball reporter)

I had to get his picture, so I raced over and yelled, “Hey, Tracey! Can I get your picture?” The large man in the trademark cowboy hat turned and grinned and said sure. So I snapped it, and then he came over shook my hand, took my camera and handed it to one of the purpled stadium workers and said we should get one together. I called Susan over and he quickly moved between us and said, “I want to stand by you,” as he put his arm around Susan. Tracey and the Slut, how could this day get better?

The Starma Just Keeps on Rolling

Riding high on our brush with fame, we made it over to the bricks and not only managed to find the one Susan and her sisters bought, but we also found the one Susan’s cousins had purchased to honor “Brick” Nesbit. The tale of the bricks is a Starma story best saved for another time. We took the obligatory photos, and made our way up to the nearest gate. The big hand had a fast approaching date with the little hand straight up, and with that the unlocking of the gates to the hordes hungry for baseball after a long, cold winter devoid of any real sports.

We made it past the elderly who were the first line of defense against terrorist and opposing fans at the stadium without incidence. Without hesitation we visited the nearest “Beers of the World” cart, and each got a cup and walked over to a portal to look at the sacred green of the home of the Colorado Rockies. We looked down, seeing players playing catch, and taking batting practice. Susan wondered if they would let us down the lower level to watch the practice, and I said it couldn’t hurt to ask (all the while fearing that since we held tickets for upper deck that it could hurt to ask).

It seemed, however, Starma still ruled the day as the nice lady simply stepped aside and we went down to sit behind the third base dugout. The sun was hot, the day was gorgeous, and we saw the lightening quick hands of Todd Helton giving a clinic to anyone who wanted to watch him in the batting cage. It was awesome, what else is there to say. We just drank it all in, occasionally annotated by the usher who filled us in on little known ground rules, the heated turf, and Coors field drainage (apparently it had been a long lonely winter for him as well). Finally we drained our beers, and went up to the concourse to await Jean-Marie and then to find our seats.

The Pink Crew In Force

Jean-Marie arrived at the stadium with plenty of time until the start of the game even though she was forced to park in Wyoming. With hugs all around we found the escalator and ultimately the upper deck. Jean-Marie already had a gin and tonic that I had waiting on her, and now it was time to get food for all and some more beer.

With hands full and rubbling stomachs, we climbed up the stairs of our section up to our seats, and what to our wondering eyes did appear – Starma! Our seats were in the purple row signifying the place in the stadium that was exactly 5280 feet above sea level, how cool is that. If you have to sit up high, might as well make everything about it memorable.

Seats nestled beneath our tushes, drinks well on their way to being downed, and hotdogs long since gone to our bellies, we talked of seasons past and the season before us. We could feel the energy and the electricity coalesce until they ignited in a passionate discharge as 50,000 people rose to sing the national anthem, revere a flag literally as big as the outfield, and welcome baseball back for a new season to the mile high city. We couldn’t wait for the first pitch.

I will not bore anyone with the play-by-play. It is sufficient to say that De La Rosa put on a superb pitching display, the Rockies bats were lively, and Tulo’s butt was stared at continuously throughout the game by Jean-Marie and Susan. Given the ideal weather, and the winning game, the day was perfect. It was perfect right down to the group picture of Jean-Marie, Susan, and I with our now traditional pink attire. It was perfect right down to the young man in the row below us (the row NOT 5280 feet above sea level row) asking me, “Why do you wear a pink hat?’ It was perfect to be at the game, to witness the seasonal rebirth, and to be sharing it with people I love. It was Starma, Starvana, spring, and perfection. It was time to be no longer of this world for three hours and escape into the wonder of the Game.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Colorless Hammer

There was a time in baseball before high tech training and the advent of steroids when records were broken not on the fly, but through hard work, dedication, and longevity in the sport. I am specifically reminded of “Hammerin’ Hank,” Henry Aaron. I was not even born when Hank started playing professional ball for the then Milwaukie Braves, and was almost 12 when he reached his milestone 715th homer to break Ruth’s record. It was never a question that Hank would go into the Hall of Fame as he finished his career with a .305 average, 755 home runs, 3771 hits, and 2297 rbi’s. Those are incredible statistics. But it’s not the numbers I remember most about Hank, it is that he played the Game well, and that he played it right.

I grew up in Orangeburg, SC., a smallish town in the heart of South Carolina (a state criminally without a major league ball club). The lack of a hometown team left my older brother Chris and I to play the field as it were in choosing our favorite club. I had several years that I was an A’s fan because I was on a little league team called the A’s. My brother and I liked the Phillies as well, they were a dynamic team when we were growing up led by an aggressive player by the name of Larry Boa. We loved to listen to Phillies games at night on our little radio. But without a doubt, when growing up our favorite team was the Atlanta Braves. Lying in bed we would have the company of the glow of our little green dial radio between our two beds and the voices of Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson as the Braves played season after season.

I suppose there were better teams we could have followed, in the late sixties and through the seventies, the Braves lead by politically incorrect mascot Chief Knock-a-Homa (later joined by even more incorrect Princess Poke-a-Homa) never failed to disappoint. Seasons were long arduous affairs despite having Hank Aaron and the supporting cast of Ralf the roadrunner Garr, Gary Matthews, Darrel Evens, and Phil Nekro. Most of the pitchers for the braves were not known for being able to hit the broad side of a barn, and so seasons would come and go most often with more losses than wins. Still Chris and I loved listening to them and Milo and Ernie became like family, I still miss their voices.

During this love affair with the Braves, it would have been impossible not to have Hammerin’ Hank as my favorite. Hell, by the time I started really paying attention to baseball, Hank already had over 400 home runs. There was nothing flashy about Hank, he played the game and played it well and never drew attention to himself with proclamations or antics – just hard work, skill, and desire. Back then, that was all that it took. After all as Yogi has said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half physical.”

It was a pleasure to listen to and to watch Hank play the game as few have. He was always a lesson being taught. As he got closer to the record, he was the pulse of baseball, he gave the Game an elevated life, and at no time did he take advantage of that celebrity. He will always be someone who’s swing and smile stood out more than any show of ego.

But when I reflect on Hank, I get deeper impressions, more important insights. We are in the age of the first “black” president, we just saw the first “woman” win the Oscar for best director, and over recent years this era has seen the first Hispanic this, and the first Oriental that, and one minority achievement after another. But look back to Hank, he started playing baseball before civil rights. He began the Game when it was still difficult to be black and play baseball. Hank’s career spanned the era of civil rights, hate, and desegregation. Yes, during his time he did have to endure a lot of hatred, and march through a great deal of adversity, but he never made it the focus of his life or used it as a crutch or banner. With the swing of a bat, he made most people forget (at least for a moment) the color of his skin, and instead think of the amazing achievement of a man. Hank demonstrated by example that petty concerns like a man’s race pales in comparison to a single act in a simple game, that prejudice really has no relevance. Thank you Hank not only for being my baseball hero, but being a larger hero in showing me that if there are more important things in life than baseball, then there are infinitely more important things in life than maintaining prejudices.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2 Days 23 Hours 48 minutes

I guess it has become debatable in American society that baseball is America's past time. In an era of organic weight conscientiousness, and failing US automakers, has the refrain "Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet" become a death knell rather than a rallying call?

I don't think so. Baseball is not my past time, it is not my passion, it is something more ethereal (and becomes even more so the older I get). In my middle age, I am thrilled by the prospect that we are on the verge of another spring training, that in fewer than three days pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Arizona and Florida to partake in this ritual of Americana. Childhood far behind me, once again childhood beckons me through baseball. Year after year I feel this, my own private phoenix rising from the flames. And it is not a solitary thrill, as I can reach out to my wife/best friend, and my baseball buddy, and my children, and my elder brother, and the larger brotherhood of baseball in screaming out, "I can't wait!"

It is because of the unique nature of baseball that it is not only a love but a shared experience. The Game represents the seasons. The arrival of camp and the start of the season is spring, the blooming of life awakening. By the allstar break, it is summer, the heating up of the run for the fall classic. By the playoffs, excitement has peaked, but the pangs of loss are beginning as I know the season is winding down and it is autumn. Winter follows, crawling, a barren time of no baseball filled only with thoughts of surviving and making it to spring training.

In it's way, Baseball is also religion. Like the Catholic Church which is uniquely known among sects and religions as the Church, so Baseball is uniquely known among all sports as the Game. As in the often raucous Southern Baptist Church, fans at a baseball game share the cathartic gyrations of euphoric ecstasy at the hitting for the cycle, or the clutch walk off grand slam (Spilly, Spilly, Spilly!). In Charismatic churches, believers will spontaneously break into speaking in tongues, like the baseball fan who will spout endless statistics at a moments notice and without warning. People believe in the Game, and die a little when the Game let's them down, because the Game should be above it all. And the Game has its saints, and like religious saints they are revered most not for their talent, and not for their stats, but from "doing it right."

Baseball: An analogy of life, a representation of the passage of the seasons, a religion unto itself. Baseball: Now 2 days, 22 hours, and 28 minutes until pitchers and catchers report. Baseball: I can't wait.