“I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night, and then the nap takes me.” – Johnson
I awoke to men yelling. Voices carried as if from world’s end. A blue-gray haze accented the apartment room. One-half that world was dark, and the other half lit by a sun receding behind mountains and a few parking-lot lights. And I awoke to men yelling. I arose slightly, on an elbow or two. Movement in the dark-half of the room. Then, a moan mixed with the man-yelling and an orange tabby appeared from the dark, softly landing on the back of a couch. The tabby continued, moaning, then resting on the arm behind me, crossed paws and stared into the blue-gray, wide-eyed. And the man-yelling continued.
“Theo!” My eye-lids struggled to open and stuck as I blinked, yearning for moisture to wet my dry contact lenses. “Theo, when are we?”
He had nothing to say to this, but after several moments, he jumped onto a wooden coffee table. Then, he let out a depressing, groaning mew. I scolded him, trying to make out what the men were yelling about. Then, I remembered. Some teams were playing a game. I recollected. It was the championship. When was it? Early April. North Carolina and Villanova. It all flurried back to me in unconscious intervals. Villanova apparently won, I gathered from the yells. But how? I had missed it. I had dozed off during the biggest – and most exciting – game of the year. I grabbed my phone and asked a friend what I missed. It then struck me that the radio, better than any other form, allows us to observe that proper distance from sporting events.
I have experienced the above scenario several times listening to sporting events. Often, I have woken up just as my baseball team hits a few late-inning fastballs and starts making some noise. Waking up to a game is almost as exhausting as playing a game. A man never knows how long he has slept, and it is a natural and common experience to be relatively clueless after naps. It is the particular glory of the nap to wake as if born into the world like Adam. But when a man nods off to a sporting event, he has a sense of time. He is awoken by the very thing that lulled him to sleep and knows where he is. And his brain is bombarded with a series of questions in a particular order: Score? Inning? Still playing? Extra innings? Rain delay? Who’s on first? When are we?
Baseball is clearly and without a doubt the greatest sport to pair with a radio. I would even go so far as to say that baseball is enhanced by the radio. A man can easily perceive why this is the case. Golf and tennis, two noble sports, cannot possibly be described with justice to the ear. The glory of those sports resides in their exactness, which must be seen to be believed. Soccer and basketball have opposite, yet similar effects. One is too slow to understand audibly; the other too fast, its whole being blurring into an obscure racket, unpleasing to the ear. Football, most definitely, comes closest to baseball. But when we consider pacing, the slow, methodical rhythm of America’s pastime, as calm and relaxing as receding sea waves, we understand more fully why baseball is best heard. We understand more fully why men will rock to the noise with nothing but a pipe in their teeth, eyes closed, as if dreaming of the future. We understand more fully why grown men so often doze off, as if receding like those waves into another world, some field of dreams.
Baseball has been described by better men as a background sport.* This is an apt and just description. Baseball is a background sport because baseball is the closest rendering to life in sports, for most of life occurs in the background. Life, as well, is too short because we want more of it, and sane men naturally want more baseball. But in all its stages of life, all its moments, all external events surrounding it, we may see that a life is very long indeed. When we think of each individual game, each pitch, each out, each inning, each seventh-inning stretch, each win-streak, each loss-streak, each record, each comeback, each blown-save, the baseball season is a mammoth season. But it is not, as some suggest, a monotonous season, as if mammoths are monotonous. The glory of this game lies in the diversity that occurs within its structure. I suppose, if we truly consider it, baseball is most like the Catholic Church. It certainly upholds the number three. Like Rome, and like life, baseball’s structure grants it a diversity that is not achieved in other sports. The game is more than a game, it is an organism. It has its Pope and bishops, its priests and laymen, its rules, distinctions, counsels, saints, and heretics. They say that one steps out of time during the mass. That may be why baseball has no time.
I fell in love with baseball before I knew I liked it, before I disdained it as a boring, slow sport. The game entered my ears as a child and subconsciously seeded in my soul. I remember each event as if it was one – sitting in our green Ford Aerostar, or silver Ford Tempo, with small head on hand, observing the flow of Kansas City traffic and listening. Another game, another loss. Post-game coverage on 435, leaving Kaufman; live-game coverage on 35, leaving soccer practice; hearing of Brett from days past; hoping, listening, longing, losing. But still listening. Even in the dregs of a long-gone September, that radio, that voice, entered life at intervals. When I hear that voice, I hear memory. It reminds me of summer, of few responsibilities, of freedom, of an eternity that couldn’t ever last.
The mammoth season of baseball magnifies when a man follows the team, attempts to listen to every game. There is something particularly rewarding in following a losing team, even forgetting about them for a time. There is something rewarding about visiting the stadium, speaking of playoffs as if in a dream. There is something about resurrection in sports, something divine in hearing that same old announcer, some twenty years on, calling games as if from the grave. There is something to be said about a resurrected man being surprised. But so long as I’m on this side of the grave, I’ll never forget the shock of Denny Matthews’s voice during an early-November, ninth inning. “Play at first, Hosmer is – he’s running!?” Spoken like a declarative question. Spoken like a man certain in his uncertainty and uncertain in his certainty. Spoken like a man just waking from a very long nap unsure he’s not still dreaming.
Listening to a baseball game – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 27, 2015
Painting: “Radio Transmission, Biggin Hill”
By Elva Joan Blacker
Oil on canvas, 1942
*See R. Eric Tippin’s Trifler, No. 14, “On Entering a Gym and a Game of Ball, Or Two True Myths”