I love baseball. I’ve been watching since 1964, when I was seven years old. It’s in my blood as it is for many of my generation. It’s uniquely American. Just like mom and apple pie. And July 4th and fireworks.
Up until I was around ten years old, I was more of a New York Mets fan because we only lived a few minutes away from Shea Stadium in Queens. But I was equally devoted to the Yankees too, and ultimately, ended up rooting for them as I got older. Man, the dilemmas we faced when we were kids.
Back in those days, my father, who worked in the garment center, would get cheap Mets tickets from his mobster bookie, Joe “The Hat.” Joe was like a character from an era gone by, and wore a large, white fedora, earning him the nickname. He was the real deal. Never without a half-smoked cigar jutting out of the corner of his mouth, he owned a tiny, hole in the wall, barber shop on West 39th Street that had one of those old, striped barber poles out in front. From that storefront, “The Hat” took bets on everything from baseball and football to horseracing and boxing. My Dad said he once heard there was a dice game in the back, although he never actually saw it.
One of the great things about growing up in New York was that, because we had two teams here, all the best ballplayers of my generation either played here, or passed through, at some point during their careers. Everyone from Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays to Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Roger Maris, Tom Seaver, and Hank Aaron among others. And if they didn’t play for the Mets or Yankees, then they faced them as competitors. And thanks to Joe “The Hat,” I got to see most of them play live.
There must have been a million summer afternoons too, where I’d sprawl out like a giant, gangly octopus on the couch, and watch a game from start to finish on TV. All nine innings. Days seemed to move ever so slowly back then. And baseball was part of the reason why. Sometimes, if you were watching a game on a Saturday or Sunday, it felt like someone flipped the switch and set life to slow motion. A single inning could take fifteen minutes or more. And the three-plus hours it usually took to watch an entire game, seemed like ten. I loved every minute of it.
Today, fifty-three years later, I still love it. And I watch whenever I can, although it’s hard unless I’m home alone. But I got lucky the other day, and caught the Yankees playing the Texas Rangers on television, right from the first pitch. It was a typical hot, Sunday afternoon in late June. Eighty-five or so degrees outside. The Yankee Stadium crowd was quietly buzzing in the background. And it was all sun and blue skies above. It was baseball in New York. And it felt just like it used to when I was a kid.
Well, at least for a little while.
But it’s no longer 1964, and life outside is no longer slow. The world is an anxious place these days. My iPhone reminds me of this continually, beeping dozens of toxic CNN headline alerts at me all day long. Trump, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Iran, ISIS, nukes, terrorism, healthcare, travel bans, race, gender, who can go into what bathroom, Hollywood dimwits, religion, guns, speech, hate, violence…
Stop it already!!! I can’t take it anymore!!!
Frankly, I don’t care how many missiles Kim Jong-un just tested. Or what Donald Trump just tweeted about Mika Brzezinski. Or who the Russians conspired with. Even what a colossal ignoramus Kathy Griffin is. A few weeks ago, it got so bad, I even turned off my iPhone completely a couple of times. But it really didn’t matter because everybody around me still had theirs, and were locked into them like iPhone robots.
Sometimes, when I walk down the street in the city, people drift by me in a trance-like, almost catatonic, state plugged into the broader digital collective, and oblivious to most things going on around them. There is now a near-constant stream of information and communications being fed into our brains via our iPhones. Outside of my ninety-year-old mother, the rest of the U.S. is slowly overdosing on the crack-cocaine epidemic of our time: information overload. You just can’t escape it. Because now, it’s a way of life.
But then, just for a moment, I looked back at the TV and the Yankee game. I listened to one of the announcer’s marveling over a ball that was just hit deep into the outfield, and how it bounced off the wall, and ricocheted away from the left fielder. And I looked at the perfectly manicured, cross-hatched, green grass on the field reflecting the sunlight. And the shadows from the stadiums upper façade, slowly overtaking the rest of the diamond from the earlier innings. I watched the Yankee’s pitcher go through his pre-pitch routine, nervously spinning the ball in his hand, and then adjusting the brim on his cap so it sat just off to the left of his head. And the batter up at the plate, as he rapped the bat against his cleats a few times to shake loose the dirt that was stuck in the heel.
And as I briefly stared at the television, I thought about how much I’ve always loved baseball. What a refuge it is for me. Because it’s completely antithetical to the way life is today. And it’s antithetical to the never-ending flood of rage and vitriol we’ve come to accept as the new normal.
So, if you feel like you need a place to hide, or if you just don’t want to hear all the screaming and yelling anymore, try to find yourself a baseball game on television. Tune into the Mets or Yankees. Or maybe Red Sox or Cubs. Stop looking at your iPhone alerts. Turn the phone off. Lower the blinds and turn up the air conditioning. Grab a beer and some chips. Kick back and slow down. Breathe. Take in the game. And get away. What could be better?
Because during a baseball game, there is no Donald Trump or Russia. There are no Democrats or Republicans either. And no healthcare debate or immigration reform.
During a baseball game, there’s just baseball and you. Home runs, double plays, batting averages, curveballs and sinkers.
It’s nice and slow, and easy and safe. And that works just fine for me.
Something tells me that, if Joe “The Hat” was still alive today, he would’ve been pretty proud of me.