Sunday, September 11, 2005

Baseball - Now I Get It

I wrote this essay in September 2001. That date marks it in history, of course, as a piece written post 9-11. That was the month I realized I could, through words, purge myself of my thoughts and troubles and share my observations with others. A very dear friend told me, "Carolyn, you write too well to keep your work hidden on a computer. Share it." I have ever since.

I was mourning with everyone else that tragic month. This was one voice, mine, in a crowded Queens baseball stadium on a cool autumn 9-11.

24 September 2001

Baseball – Now, I Get It.
By Carolyn La Duca Torella

I guess it took me 151 games to figure it out. It took 151 games and one tragic national event and countless tears shed to figure it out. It took all that and then the cheers and smiles from thousands of Mets fans to figure it out, but I did.

Baseball, it is true, is a game. Just a game. Lately, it seems, it has been more than that to a lot of people. It is a game woven into the fabric of this country, and now, it seems, at games, woven into the fabric of our national flag and anthem, and vice versa.

Before this year, I couldn’t tell you what I’d be doing on any given night from April to September at around, say 7:10pm and at 1:10pm on Sundays. I would never have guessed that this year, you would find me in front of a TV or at the stadium, cheering on a team of baseball players. But this year, I became a baseball fan.

"Hello, my name is Carolyn. I am 35 years old and I am a baseball fan." Some of my friends call it pre-mid-life crisis. Some friends call it delayed enlightenment. Some Yankee friends call it pathetic. Some lifelong Mets fans call it a little too late.

I don’t know why I decided to follow Mets baseball this year. Maybe I’m a fan now because I almost bumped into Mike Piazza at the LasVegas airport in February. Maybe it was that whole Subway Series thing last fall. Maybe there was just nothing good on TV.

Except for my older brother, a Mets fan, we were never a baseball family. Football, yes. Baseball, hardly ever. As a teenager, I was tortured by my brother’s unending desire to "just check the score on the Mets" while my television show was on. I just didn’t get it.

Baseball seemed painfully slow. Baseball, it seemed to me, was just a bunch of guys waiting around for something exciting to happen. Something exciting would, eventually, happen and then the crowd would cheer and the players would run around a little bit and maybe get dirty and get their adrenaline going again. It didn’t seem to be a real sport by any means.

But then, this year, I sat through a whole game and actually watched it. Not from over the top of my Cooking Light magazine, mind you. I sat fully focused on the game for the whole nine innings. It was Mets at Atlanta, the season opener for the Mets. In one game of nine innings, I learned that baseball is an incredibly difficult game that very few could play well and even fewer could play exceptionally.

Then, of course, I’ve had to learn all about baseball strategy. Runners on the corners, two outs, you’re down two runs, they just put in a left-handed pitcher, a train is leaving the station at 2PM heading west at 53 mph and your pitcher is up to bat, what do you do? I still don’t have the answer, but I figure by the end of the season, I might.

I learned that baseball is great drama. When your team has a 5-2 lead going into the ninth and your reliever gives up two back-to-back homeruns; that is drama. When he gives up a two-out double and then walks the next batter; that is drama. The starting pitcher in the dugout can’t even look up. The catcher is just trying to calm the pitcher down, "Forget about it. One pitch at a time. You can do it. Get the next one." The manager’s hair is turning grayer by the minute. The crowd is booing. And in that 94-degree heat, NO one is sweating more than the guy on the mound. Drama.

It is better than Days of Our Lives, or the West Wing or even that fly-fishing show on ESPN.

But what I also figured out this year, after all the rules and strategy and highlight reels, is that baseball is still after all, just a game. It is a temporary diversion from reality. Lately, reality has been particularly painful and the escape, however temporary, has been welcome. I have carved out a niche for this game, this team, in my life. I committed myself to one season, good or bad, to figure it out. And I think I had it. And then September 11th happened.

And while I knew that baseball had become part of my life this year, I didn’t know how much until that week. Through the grieving and the tears and the grim news by the minute, I wanted my baseball. Of course, no one could play. How could they possibly? But I wanted it. It was part of my "normal" life this year and I wanted it back. By Friday the 14th, I needed it.

I found a tape of a Mets game I had made of the three innings I missed when I had to go out on a Sunday. I don’t even know which game it was. But it was baseball. So, like an addict hiding in the bathroom to get his fix, I popped the tape in and watched.

I don’t remember what happened. I didn’t care. I just wanted it on. The voices of the announcers were happy and spontaneous and at times, elated and seemed so different and out of place with every voice I had heard that week.

But I didn’t care. I wanted it. And I watched. And I cried.

I called my friend, a psychologist, and I asked her if I was crazy and pathetic to watch a taped game from a month ago. She said no, and that she’d only start to worry if I watched it over and over and over. Good, I thought. I only watched it once.

And when baseball finally returned, for those three hours, those nine innings, I was happy again. At 7:10pm, I had a piece of my life back. A small piece that I missed and wanted back. And it was there, but it was different. The first night at Pittsburgh was different, strained, subdued, but it was back. By the second night, it was better, but not the same.

On the first night back at Shea, the players seemed to be playing with more raw emotion than skill or strength, although they had that, too. Mike Piazza’s 8th inning homerun on September 21st lifted our spirits as high as the ball that night. Who can forget the sight of 41,000 people in the stands that night with arms lifted overheard, jumping up and down, cheering, smiling – he gave us one moment of sheer joy during a month of complete and utter grief.

The game was emotional and exciting, but, still, it was not the same. But then, on Saturday…on Saturday, it was finally back. It was baseball again. From the first pitch to the last out, it was baseball.

I went to the stadium that night to watch the Mets play Atlanta with 41,000 other Mets fans, baseball fans, New Yorkers, Americans. We were all there together that night. Cheering. Again.

Mock chops. Chipper boos. Clutch hits. Bullpen saves. It was back.

Before the game, we all watched the touching video paying tribute to the emergency personnel of New York City for their heroic efforts. I was not the only one crying. During the game, NYPD officers stationed in the stands were thanked, personally and sincerely by passing fans. We looked them squarely in the eyes and thanked them, and without saying it, passed on our heartfelt sympathy for their tragic losses.

We all sang, with flags held up high during the pre-game and 7th inning tributes. And for the rest of the game, we cheered. And we were happy.

And all the while cheering, we knew, in the back of our minds, that it was just a game. But it was our game. And the players were playing and the fans were cheering. And they couldn’t take that away.

151 games. Eleven left. I’m still here watching the game. And I think I finally figured it out.


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