A beloved colleague at work gave me a book when I retired in May 2019. And if the current virus quarantine is good for anything, it’s catching up with books such as Joe Bonomo’s “No Place I would Rather Be,” his 2019 history of Roger Angell’s life writing about baseball for the New Yorker.
I was breezing along in the relatively early part of the book when this quote of Angell’s hit me like a bucket of cold water.
“Baseball is stuffed with waiting,” he wrote.
We’re now waiting for baseball, of course, and especially so for those of us who are ushers at the parks around the nation, Target Field in Minneapolis in my case. We live not only for the baseball, but for the social glue that the sport provides us, even though the game has devolved in recent years. Too many parks — that is to say: all of them — cannot stand the sound of silence. And so we are inundated with game hosts and contests and music and kiss cams and decibels — so many decibels.
Major League Baseball has, over time, chosen to push the game itself farther into the background in order to save it. We can debate whether it’s working, but I choose for now merely to pull the game back on stage.
I had to google the quote to find the New Yorker article in which Angell described the New York Yankees’ clinching game of the 2017 American League Divisional Series against the Cleveland Indians, the team for which I’ve lived and died since I was a boy, even though I never lived in Ohio. The Indians held a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-five series before dropping three straight.
So much waiting. For long at bats, for Aaron Judge to lay off sliders down and away, and for the beautiful silence of the game.
“I was waiting and sometimes screaming for the FS1 announcers, John Smoltz and Matt Vasgersian, to stop their flood of heavy expertise and Googled-up stats and allow us to pick up and share some of the beautiful, complex silences of the game,” Angell wrote. “This won’t happen, of course, but I was offended by a stupid little joke between Smoltz and Vasgersian in the booth just before the Indians’ last at-bats, at a moment when compassion for the appalled home fans and their millions of Midwest companions seemed appropriate. They did not honor this.”
Thinking of the game’s soundtrack the other day reminded me of Reggie Deal, who went on a mission in 2012 to visit every Major League ballpark. He could tell what was happening by listening to the sound when ball meets bat, the crowd, and the silence sometimes, if you wait long enough.
But this aging baseball fan is running out of time to experience what so many Twins fans have: the feeling of winning a World Series. In 2016, Cleveland held a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs, then lost three straight to the Cubs, whose fans ended their long wait, while another’s waited for winter.
That made 2017 a year of desperation, and the loss to the Yankees as heartbreaking as the World Series, for we all knew a window of opportunity had slammed shut again.
I don’t know if Angell recognized it too, but he saw heartbreak among the vanquished fans, insisting that compassion seemed appropriate, even when no one else did.
Last Thursday would have been opening day at Target Field. My plan was to work the game, then fly back to my hometown in Massachusetts for my mother’s funeral on Saturday, flying back a day later to be on duty when the Twins opened a series against Cleveland.
None of that, like the idea of my boyhood team winning a World Series in my lifetime — was meant to be.
So we wait for better times — and baseball — in silence.
Bob Collins writes from Woodbury.