Thursday, July 15, 2010

3013 Miles

I can feel the heartbreak every time I think about it. It's like the souls of those New Yorkers who breathed Giants and Dodgers baseball can't rest, like they are condemned to roam the Earth for as long as California holds captive their beloveds. I feel the shadow of their devastation in the black and white footage of the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, the cold fist of avarice smashing the innocence from a people.

Baseball. No other name for a sport can inspire so much emotion and memories as the great game of baseball. Football is named after the grossest body part. Basketball is named after something you put fruit in. Hockey is named after bored Irish shepherds who'd hit around a ball with their staves while watching their sheep. Soccer sounds like domestic abuse, and golf sounds like an environmental disaster. But baseball invokes feelings of safety and security, the foundation of nostalgia.

Ken Burns' Baseball is not about baseball. It's about America.

This documentary has been on PBS for the last couple of weeks. I had never seen it before (surprising, I know), but I've been watching several segments of it after Reds games, and I have to say, it is beautiful. But it seems to hurt more than anything.

Baseball has always been a business. In fact, the whole history of the world is business. Commerce - that's the sexier term - Chamber of Commerce and Department of Commerce and Commerica. Business is busy, but commerce is calm, smoooooth. Games are supposed to be leisure but then leisure became business and we were left slaving away in business so we could enjoy leisure. The Dodgers were Brooklyn more than anything else in Brooklyn but then they were gone and a hole was left in dark blue hearts, and hallowed Ebbets became hollowed and then it vanished. Where was the loyalty, they asked, but there is no loyalty in business. There is no loyalty or love or life, only money. Only money. They said it felt like a death in the family and I can imagine it. There was no Paxil or Prozac then but they could have put it in the water supply if there had been.

You look at the old footage without the colors and the high definition and you are taken back to a time that never really existed. We look back at shots of the Babe and Stan the Man and the Splendid Splinter and we are flooded with nostalgia for something most of us never experienced and we think about the good old days. The fans - mostly men - in their hats and suits seem so...innocent and happy in the time before California baseball. Yet if you asked them, they'd see nothing wrong with the way they treated people with dark skin.

We're not that far removed from that time, and it seems that racism is back en vogue. Racism cut short Jackie's career. It killed Josh Gibson. Curt Flood said, "I am pleased God made my skin black. I wish he had made it thicker." It makes me physically sick to my stomach when I watch footage and interviews of what black players had to go through and see tears well up in the eyes of a guy like Flood. They well up in mine.

But we still cling to this notion of the good old days and we are excited as children in talking about these mythical creatures who are the gods of this religion we call baseball. We filter out the past or pat ourselves on the backs for how far we've come, and why shouldn't we? When it all comes down to it we are really just stupid creatures who don't even know if the universe is infinite or not, so we take our pleasure in games and look at the past as if it is merely a story book. Baseball when it isn't breaking our hearts is filling them with joy and that is enough to get through another day.

Los Angeles is 3,013 miles from New York City, just about as far away from Brooklyn fans as O'Malley could get. Hard to believe that Dodger Stadium is the third oldest ballpark in baseball these days. Things never change. My, how we've thrown away our heritage and our history in the name of the Almighty Dollar. But that is life and we've been doing it for eternity.

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