I swear I've never cried watching Field of Dreams

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My wife's two young cousins came to town this past weekend. We panicked and looked around the house for anything to entertain two 11-year-old boys. We live in a decidedly Wii-free zone. Most people nowadays have those flat-screen jumbotrons on their living room walls; we have a 15-inch television we bought thinking it would make us watch less television. Instead, we just squint when we watch television. I do think my wife likes that I watch far fewer old samurai movies when the subtitles are in 8-point font, but it's not so easy to sell the merits of a 15-inch television to an 11-year-old boy.

One of these cousins is a Vienna-raised White Sox fan whose father can no longer enter the country legally because of certain. . .well, warrants. Apparently they watch American baseball via satellite in Austria. The other cousin is a Shanghai-raised Tigers fan whose father is allowed to enter the country but isn't talking to the other one's father (his own brother) because of certain. . . well, business disputes. It's all very complicated, but thank God for baseball. The Tigers were hosting the White Sox and the stars aligned for a convergence of cousins from opposing points on the globe in the grand old city of Detroit, Michigan. I went with them to Sunday's sold-out game.

Despite the shriveled gherkin present at every diaper change, I haven't thought that much about how my son is going to turn into an actual boy. He can't yet scuttle away to kick the neighbor girl in the shin or light things on fire or turn every inanimate object into an imaginary pistol, so I haven't considered how different my relationship will be with him because of his gender. But as we dealt with how unprepared we were to host two boys at our house, I realized that in a decade or so one of those things was going to be living under my roof. I was terrified. "Do you think they like samurai movies?" I shouted at my wife from the basement.

"Just get out those sixteen crates of baseball cards your dad brought over the day after we moved into this house."

Back when I was working, I lived with a certain amount of constant anxiety. There was always some CFO's deposition to take or some hearing on a motion in federal court. Since I quit, I have come to accept that anxiety is just a natural part of life; now I get nervous about things like grocery shopping with two kids or being forced to talk to two 11-year-old boys. But I needn't have worried. I'd forgotten entirely that at one time I myself was an 11-year-old boy. The look on their faces when they saw the baseball card collection stored under our stairs was the same that graced Howard Carter's when he first gazed into the burial chamber of Tutankhamun's tomb. Then my wife told them I went to high school with Derek Jeter:

You would have thought I was Derek Jeter.

When I told them, "No, Derek and I weren't friends, he was three years older than me," I saw their disappointment. But you knew him, right? I could see in their eyes that they wanted Derek to have been a hero even then, raising his fist menacingly at the bullies who called me pizza face and then helping me pick up the books they knocked out of my arms. "We never actually spoke. I played against him in little league once." What was he like, then? "He was smart. A hard worker. He used to copy my best friend's brother's Latin homework, though." Their faces sunk. "But his girlfriend was really pretty." They brightened.

The boys are the first fans to arrive at the ballpark at 10:45 in the morning. They haven't even started warming up the hot dog water. They wait around the Tigers' dugout. Curtis Granderson signs their ball. Carlos Guillen signs a card. These heroes in polyester emerge from underground, close enough to touch. The fingers of the boys brush those of their idols, encased in batter's gloves, during the exchange of memorabilia now glossy with scrawled names. I did all this once. The real work of these men comes long before the stadium is filled, I think, long before they step into the batter's box.

The cynic in me sees the sport as a bunch of 'roided up Venezuelan street urchins making CEO salaries to entertain 40,000 drunk meatheads and sluts in halter tops clutching $15 long-necked novelty strawberry daiquiris in stadiums bursting with advertising. But I don't see any of that sitting next to two 11-year-old boys. Instead I am steeped in the memory of what it was like to be one. The statistics. The arcana. I tell them secrets a friend on the inside told me: the Tigers manager slept in a cot in the clubhouse when they first hired him, until the general manager finally got him a hotel room. At the end of every inning, they rush from their seats down to the dugout, pleading with Miguel Cabrera to toss them the ball. One of their young comrades catches it, and they come back to their seats, disappointed but excitedly talking about where they'll stand to plead at the end of the next inning. It doesn't even matter to them that the Tigers are winning.

I would challenge you to find me anything more wholesome than an 11-year-old boy at a baseball game. I sit back in my seat.

"Did I forget to tell you guys about the time Derek Jeter rescued an injured puppy that wandered out onto the high school field and how he nursed her back to health? It's true."