As Summer Winds Down - A Reflection On Baseball
As a New Englander, summer means a variety of things. Beaches, tourists, heat and humidity that borders on oppressive. It also means baseball is in full swing.
As a child, it was natural that I was signed up to play baseball with the community league. However, being a child prone to spastic outbursts and more energy than control, I was a coach’s nightmare. I was doomed to playing outfield (when I was playing at all), and it was the rare kid who ever knocked it my way. I could only guess at what the excitement and fuss was about, as all the action was “over there”.
Given that I played on fairly wretched teams, I began to accept losing as simply part of the game very young. This would make me fit as a Red Sox fan, but it did very little for self-esteem. Only for one year did I ever get the full taste of the action. I had been placed in the catcher position, and it suited me quite well. Getting the nickname “The Wall” due to my presence at the plate, I began to see the potential of the game.
Alas, my baseball dreams never came to fruition. However, my love of baseball blossomed.
Around the same time I was slugging at the plate, Portland acquired a minor league baseball team. A farm team for the Florida Marlins, the Portland Sea Dogs became a summer tradition.
The sights, smells, and sounds of Portland’s Hadlock Field are unforgettable. The bready smell of hot dogs, Sea Dog Biscuits (an ice cream sandwich with two chocolate chip cookies), the box seats named after baseball greats, the thundering roar of feet on the metal floors during a great play, the lighthouse that rises from behind the outfield wall after a home run. I may have forgotten most of the games that I witnessed, but I have never forgotten the experience of the games.
The Sea Dogs eventually switched major league teams to the Boston Red Sox, which was like the planets aligning. Given Maine’s long-standing loathing of Massachusetts (leading to the endearment ‘Massholes’), it certainly is odd just how much Mainers love the Sox. The love has sometimes lead to bizarre government politics: Maine continues to stay on the Eastern time zone because switching to Atlantic time would make it harder to watch the Red Sox. I wish I was kidding, but you can check the records if you don’t believe me. Maine’s fascination with the Red Sox is a paradox of the universe that is better left a mystery.
Working in the paper mill during the summer, we sat around the radio during lulls, listening to the games. The stereo could barely pick up the AM signal due to the heavy machinery, the volume maxed out to be heard over the hissing sound of the paper roll wrapper. The pictures of players were cut out and taped on the walls of various machines and furniture.
The mill’s winding room manager was a Yankees fan (the Yankees and the Red Sox are oil and water), and there would be playful arguments. Outside the mill, sometimes the disputes would be less playful. Baseball is religion in New England, and team allegiance a serious matter, often leading to conflicts.
In the fall of 2004, I moved to New Brunswick, and saw the Red Sox win the World Series. It had been over 80 years since their last World Series win, an event like a passing meteor that one is fortunate enough to see once in their lifetime.
As Canada has its own obsession in hockey, baseball faded from my life, like other interests that were in their wane.
But life is rarely so linear as to have definite beginnings and ends to interests, hobbies, passions. Seasons pass, friends are found and forgotten, and loves lost and won.
I rediscovered baseball in Calgary of all places. With its hostile weather and short summer, most Calgarians are unaware that they have a minor league team. The Calgary Vipers play at the Foothills Stadium, which is a smaller, much more subdued version of Hadlock Field. There’s an entertaining beer guy and plenty of cheap seats, but its definitely a low-key affair.
Having a home team to root for is necessary for a fanatic, and although the Red Sox will always have a special spot in my heart, New England isn’t really my home anymore. As an immigrant, I’m torn between keeping a connection to the old country, and starting life anew with the surroundings I’m in. Perhaps, by finding my new home team, I’ve found a compromise.