Sunday afternoon I was in the very blessed position of being seated in the Great American Ball Park, enjoying just about the most perfect day for being at the ballpark I can ever remember.
It was the sort of Sunday afternoon that invited one to move slower, worry less, and just be for a bit without looking at a phone or a watch.
So we sat there in all that wonderfulness, feeling the breeze waft in from the river, watching the birds flit about, listening to the sounds, watching all the people, and occasionally remembering that there was a baseball game going on right in front of us.
It wasn’t a good day for the Reds (they lost to the Cubs 9-0), but that didn’t matter because everything else was right and all of my senses were engaged in the experience. Being at the ballpark is quite enough, no matter the victor.
It is the sounds and the smells. It is the atmosphere and the laid back nature of it all. It is chit-chatting, looking around to your heart’s content, it is eating a hot dog and peanuts, it is trying to figure out where that camera is pointing when people are hamming it up on the very big screen.
And the sounds, those distinct sounds that are part of the ballpark – the crack of a bat hitting a ball; the muted roar of a crowd constantly engaged in conversation, but quickly exploding when there is some real action on the field; all those voices engaged in the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” and later “Take Me Out to the Ballgame;” the calls of the food and beverage vendors—remove any of those particular sounds and the experience would be different, wanting.
But add to those sounds pretty great seats, absolutely perfect weather under the bluest skies of spring, a 1:10 p.m. start time for the game on a lazy Sunday afternoon and you’ve got the ingredients for perfection that can’t be beat, even with the impending drive back to Highland County.
Whenever I am at the ballpark, all the memories of childhood are there with me, too. All those countless summer evenings my cousins and I would haunt the front building at my grandparents’ farm, our grandpa and his brothers gathered around the radio as Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall offered their commentary on the game of the night. The front slide doors of the building would be swung open to the humid night air, the bright overhead light outside the door inviting all sorts of summer bugs, and we girls would be clomping around on the cement floor of the building with squished beer cans, left behind by various adults, on the heels of our feet because it made such a great noise.
Those nights were a big part of my childhood summers, and those memories are never far when I am at the ballpark, or remember to turn on a baseball game on 700 WLW when I am on my way home from work.
I may not know all the players anymore, and I have never been one to pay too much attention to all of baseball’s innumerable statistics, but I have always loved the game for its ties to my own childhood memories and the feelings it evokes just by being its enduring self, despite all of modernity’s efforts to sully baseball’s standing as the national pastime.
An article from nearly a year ago highlighting why baseball is just that touches on some things I have already mentioned – the food, the sounds, the games not being so great to watch on TV, but pretty awesome to watch at the ballpark, and the game’s history and traditions.
Doping and the politics of it all are not pretty, but they still cannot take away all that is great about the game, like its history, and that in such a large span of time the game has changed so little.
According to a PBS timeline on the sport, the first official baseball game was played in 1846 between the Knickerbockers and some cricket players. This is seven years after the purported invention of the game in Cooperstown by Abner Doubleday (though according to a number of other sources, that Doubleday was the game’s inventor is not true), and a year after the rules of the game are developed. In 1869 the “all-professional team” Cincinnati Red Stockings made its debut. According to MLB.com, “Baseball’s first team of professionals finished the season with a perfect 57-0 record.”
Here we are, going on 180 years after the game’s birth and we Americans still turn up at the ballpark, and people like me hold a childlike love of the game and the atmosphere that game brings with it, even when they watch that first professional team lose to another team in a big way, as the Reds did on Sunday.
For one and three quarter centuries this game has been a part of our American fabric, and something so thoroughly woven is there to stay. I thank God for it and for days like Sunday when everything slows down a bit and the skies are blue and the ballpark is alive with the sounds of the abiding great American pastime.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.