Saturday, July 23, 2011

Inside the Park Homer

Oh no! Extra Innings!

We woke up early in the tent, not because we were fully rested and rejuvenated.  We woke up because of Those Damn Birds.  If you have ever camped, you know what I am talking about.   They have loud, piercing whistles, nothing like those cartoon birds singing in the Disney movies.  These birds were sadists, and I was too tired to throw rocks at them.  As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I did imagine shooting all of the birds, but that would probably be frowned upon at Camp Beaver Creek.  In my sleepy stupor, the birds were Heckle and Jeckle, and after faking their own deaths by my gunshots, rose to laugh at me.  Then they dropped an Acme brand anvil on my head, causing more birds to fly around my head.  A sleep interrupted is a sleep unfulfilled.

First order of business on this final day of the trip was church.  We had to go to church to meet our religious obligation, and we were both pretty sure that Cherie would be quizzing us on the themes of the sermon and requesting a certificate of authenticity that we had attended a valid service (usually a weekly bulletin would suffice as proof).  Packing up the campsite was easy since all we did was roll everything into a large ball of cotton and nylon and throw it in the back of the car.  The bottom of the tent was still quite damp from the rain the previous night, and we couldn’t pack it into its bag in that condition.  Tonight, we would be home, and we, along with the tent, could then dry out.

We were too tired, too lazy, too unmotivated to clean ourselves up much for church in a tourist town, praying among strangers.  We did brush our teeth, but otherwise, we looked like two vagabonds having just been released from 2 weeks in solitary confinement.  Never mind how we probably smelled - my bed head was particularly offensive after the night outdoors.  For those of you who have seen my hair style after a fitful night of sleep, I apologize for bringing back that haunting image in your memories.  My hair was feral, and certainly not acceptable for a House of Worship.  My hair wasn’t even acceptable in the House of Blues.  Alas, I had no choice.  The Cooperstown faithful were going to see my bed head in its full glory.  Lord have mercy on them.

Thomas and I grabbed McDonalds for breakfast, and got to the church a few minutes early.  I insisted on waiting in the car until the last possible second before going inside.  This would give my hat a few extra minutes to flatten out the stray hairs standing straight up.  Hair akimbo, you might say.  I figured that waiting out the late comers would mean that fewer churchgoers would see me in this wretched condition, and shout out, “The Beast!!!” as I walked down the aisle.

This waiting game strategy paid off.  We sneaked in the back as the priest processed to the altar, and found a spiral wooden staircase to the balcony.  We sat up there out of sight of the congregation, except for the kindly organist and her faithful singing companion.  Sitting with Thomas and me that morning was their penance, without a doubt.

After church, there were only two duties left before going home.  We were committed to watching some baseball at Doubleday Field, and Thomas wanted to try out the batting cage.  Both activities sounded good to me, and the batting cage was next door to the field.

We sat and watched some baseball, again not speaking.  There were more players than fans, but that did not stop these middle aged warriors from trying their best.  The quality of play this morning was less than stellar.  When one player tried to steal second, the catcher jumped out of his crouch, came up throwing, and drilled a 75 mile per hour fastball into the thigh of his pitcher.  The catcher was embarrassed, and the pitcher was angry, with justification.  In the same inning, with one out and a man on first, the batter popped up weakly to the pitcher.  This did not slow the runner on first, who either forgot there was only one out or did not know the rules of baseball.  He headed to second.  It was an easy double play, 1-3 if you are scoring at home.

I was glad that Thomas saw adult ballplayers make dumb mistakes.  He played Little League for the first time ever this season, and he saw plenty of mistakes during the season.  It was good for him to see that baseball is a humbling game, even for big people, and especially for big people.  Catch, throw, hit – sounds simple, but it never is.

Now it was time for us to be humbled.  The batting cages next to Doubleday Field featured 3 pitch options.  There was the 55 mph curveball, the 50 mph knuckleball, or the 50 mph slider.  We watched a few hitters take their hacks, and decided that the 50 mph slider would be our only hope of making contact.  We had gone back to the car because Thomas insisted that he use his own bat and his own helmet.  I liked the attitude.  His one Little League hit, a sharply hit single that went 6 feet up the third base line before rolling to a halt, must have inspired his confidence.  He was going to master that machine.

He did crack one nice hit off the slider, and that was enough.  In a way, it’s like golf.  One good drive off the tee can keep you coming back for more every time.  There is an effortless feeling when you hit it just right, and he did hit one just right.  He’ll stick with baseball just to relive that sensation.

The slider machine embarrassed me more than once, but I did get a couple solid blasts in between the flailing misses.  Sounds simple, but it never is.  Baseball is like life, isn’t it?  A few solid hits surrounded by embarrassing misses.  The only real difference is that baseball, as I have mentioned, has no clock, and life is ruled by the clock.  Our time had run out.

It was lunch time, and we had a 6 hour ride ahead of us.  It was time to bid farewell to Cooperstown and the entire baseball trip.  I did not recount all of our adventures in this blog.  I left out a few details, but it’s a blog, not a novel.  I hope you enjoyed the brief story as much as we enjoyed living it. 
I began this blog with the following:  …nothing cements the bond of father and son like the banality of baseball.  So I vowed to someday force the glue of baseball into the crevices of my relationship with my son, thereby giving us both something to talk about when I was old and bitter.  A common passion for baseball and all of its history and rules would keep us together, and fill the countless hours avoiding our feelings with idle conversation at future family events.

One father, one son, 4 days, 2 games, one Hall of Fame, 500 miles.  Mission accomplished.  We’ll always have Cooperstown.  The question now is, how do I talk Cherie into letting us go see Fenway and Wrigley next?
 The author with Tom Seaver.

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