On Baseball and Presence

August 5, 2011

I still long to be someplace else, it’s just that the locations have changed.

I grew up an hour away from Mile High Stadium. It was the legendary home of the Denver Broncos, so named to remind opponents that oxygen would be scarce and gasps would be plentiful. My own visits to Mile High were just as scarce, and it was not the Denver Broncos that I saw on my first visit to Mile High Stadium, but the Denver Bears.

The Bears were a AAA baseball team in the Montreal Expos organization. While I knew the Bears were not major leaguers, the game met my expectations as the gargantuan 76,000 seat stadium (with 73,000 empty seats) matched up with the giant stadiums I had seen on TV on Saturday afternoon baseball. Even so, I couldn’t contain my excitement when the Bears came out for warm-ups wearing Expos jerseys and hats. I was convinced that the Expos themselves had taken the field…surely one of these players was Tim Raines himself! Surely.

Big league baseball was a reality that remained a mystery to me, withheld by large distances and the limited exposure of one broadcast a week and a pile of baseball cards. I bought Street and Smith’s Baseball Preview every season for a chance to read about how all my favorite players, and my favorite team, were projected to do. What happened last year didn’t matter, only what the experts thought was going to happen next. The Angels were, and still are, my team of choice. If you were to ask me why, I would have told you it was because they were the closest team to where I was born. Which was true, but I’m sure it also had a lot to do with their appearance in the 1979 playoffs. And the 1982 playoffs didn’t hurt. In the days of three channels sucked in by a rickety jungle gym in the attic, opportunities to see baseball were rare, and the playoffs were precious exposure to a boy with loyalties to be placed.

The Angels shared a division rivalry with the Kansas City Royals. A year or two into my Street and Smith’s habit, I noticed a listing in the latter pages with the flagship radio stations for each team. The suns rays could block AM radio signals, but the Great Plains could not. When the Angels played their frequent games against the Royals, I would begin tuning my AM radio to the Royals station to the east as the sun started dropping behind the mountains to the west. On the best nights, the crack of the bat could be distinguished from the static.

My first big league game was at the tiny old ballpark in Arlington to see the Rangers on a trip to see to my grandparents and cousins. The stadium was smaller than Mile High, but this was the bigger league. Many visits to ballparks were to follow, especially to the Angels home in Anaheim, I won’t say that I chose to go to undergrad ten minutes from Anaheim only because of the Angels, but it didn’t hurt my decision.

At the risk of taking a turn toward the “Back in my day” stylings of a, um, mature man, I have to say that things have changed. Any game currently being played is available to me live on the screen I’m typing these words on. All I need is a button press and a few taps. Almost every game being played today is piped over the ether for me to watch, on this screen, on my TV, or even on the small phone laying beside me. The mystery has been curtailed by availability.

The availability isn’t all bad. My son is being properly trained to root for the Angels, but their West Coast heavy schedule means there games often don’t even start until after he is in bed. My heart glows when he asks me, “Did the Angels win last night?” or “Will you tell me the score of the Angels game when I wake up tomorrow?” The replay of any game this season is as close as the AppleTV remote, and sometimes he squeezes in by me to watch the game summaries the next day.

What was once a mysterious reality to me is ever-present for him. And I wonder what will hold his wonder. Will baseball be so available to him that it won’t be a rare and precious treat, as it was to me? It’s not only baseball, of course. We have instant access to libraries of books, stacks of movie reels and piles of TV episodes. (In the interest of preserving your sentimentality, I’d exhort you to avoid watching the original Battlestar Galactica on Netflix.)

We have access to so much, yet we still want to experience something more. The more I have available to me, the more I have an inkling that something is happening somewhere that I might be missing out on. It is difficult for us to be present ‘here’, because we can be connected to anywhere. I used to strain to hear the sounds of the game through the static, now they prompt me to glance up at the bigger screen while I’m engaged in two or three other things on the smaller screen on my lap.

And I’m reminded, or at least in need of being reminded, that there is always something worthy of my wonder in any moment. I need only be present. Reality is still full of mystery, and nowhere is that reality more interesting than the moment and the matter that are surrounding me right now.

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