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ExiledInSeattle

Baseball: A Love Story

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Originally posted at my Wordpress site "Growing in Greenwood"

My dad washed dishes while I stood on a chair rinsing to the rhythm of the crackling radio play-by-play for Twins games. My focus was on the way my fingertips looked like raisins, on the enormity of the blue veins in dad’s arms, on perfecting my drying rack Jenga strategy. Baseball was just background noise.

My grandparent’s house a few blocks away was my one source of television. There, the glow of the Minnesota Twins backlit my play. Baseball meant little more than sweaty mullets and mustaches, interrupted occasionally by the infinitely more interesting stream of commercials for Double Mint gum and Pantene Pro V.

I knew who Kirby Puckett was. Under peer pressure I probably said things like, “Twins rule, Braves drool,” but ultimately, I didn’t care.

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Then I met Silas. In the fall of 2006 we were among a living room full of college kids watching The Sandlot. He asked for my number, not because he was hitting on me, but because he wanted a confidant to talk about a complicated summer romance with a high school friend of mine. Before spring training, that friend broke Silas’s heart and I picked up the pieces. Before the all-star break Silas and I were making out on a dorm room couch in front of a TV flashing images of a Twins game we were both ignoring, the sound muted.

I did not learn until much later what an anomaly it was for Silas to ignore a baseball game. While I was spending the ‘90’s listening to John Gordon like Charlie Brown listened to his teacher, “Wah, waaah, wah, wah.,” Silas was sitting on his bed, biting his nails, staring at the radio, holding his breath for each announcement of ball or strike.

In high school, the keys to my Oldsmobile were attached to a key chain that said, “Looking for a man who hates football and can cook.” Silas was indifferent toward football and his culinary repertoire was limited to boiled hot dogs and burnt grilled cheese sandwiches, but it seemed he embodied the spirit of that key chain. He practiced the piano for two hours a day. Another two hours were easily spent talking to me about politics, religion, and his girl problems. He gushed about the smell of lilacs and the loveliness of the air on summer nights when the heat dissipates and the humidity remains. I thought I had found the anti-jock, a sensitive, intelligent soul.

It turns out I had just found him in the right place at the right time. During his quiet home schooled years, sitting on his bed listening to every single Twins game was appropriate, but this was college. A social life outside his family was an actual possibility. This was brand new, all consuming, completely captivating territory. If someone would have asked him to watch a Twins game, he would have done so eagerly, but no one ever did.
When the appeal of late-night Mario Kart and Mafia in the dorms diminished, his next distraction was falling in love with me, and I certainly wasn’t going to invite him to watch baseball. In 2008 we got married. In 2009 we finished up our undergraduate degrees, hopped in the car and left Twins territory for Seattle.
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There, as Silas sat in a Seattle pub with three other Midwestern expatriates, watching the tie-breaking playoff game between the Twins and the Tigers, his latent love for baseball was rekindled and set ablaze.

Baseball is no longer ignorable background noise. Year round my husband devotes time to the daily reading of multiple Twins blogs, we prepare dinner to the sound of Gleeman and the Geek bantering about Terry Ryan the cheapskate, and saber metrics is a staple conversation topic among friends. His devotion to his fantasy baseball team is so great that last season I woke up to an alarm clock set for 12 a.m. and Silas hopping out of bed, rushing to his laptop to pick up choice pitchers before his east coast opponents. We have attended nearly every game the Twins have played on Safeco field in the last 4 years. We have planned two vacations, one to San Francisco and one to New York, based on the Twins schedule against the Giants and the Yankees.

Zealous-sports-fan has never been my type. So, you’d think I’d be repulsed when Silas grabs my hand to pray over dinner in a brisk, matter of fact tone saying, “Thank you God for baseball, my beautiful wife, and food. Amen.” That really is a prayer verbatim from a few weeks ago when the Pirates still had a shot at the World Series. But I’m not repulsed. In my own way, I can say, “amen” to a thanksgiving for baseball.

I don’t even want to try to hold a conversation about saber metrics or about my dream draft picks, but similar to Silas watching that Twins vs. Tigers game in 2009, I’ve had baseball conversion experiences since moving to Seattle. Every time the Twins come to town, I don my TC cap and walk from a lucky parking spot, through Pioneer Square to Safeco Field. Along the way, fellow Twins fans greet me with high fives and shouts of encouragement. In a town where most days I’m struggling to feel a sense of belonging or pride, suddenly belonging and pride are easy. In the sort of narrow-mindedness made possible only by nostalgia, I imagine that everyone in the stadium wearing Twins apparel was once a child beside their dad in a garage, or riding in a car, or at the kitchen sink, staring at the veins in his arms and listening to John Gordon's voice.

On the day that Gordon retired in 2011, Silas and I huddled together in front of a laptop to watch the clip of Kirby Puckett’s game winning home run that pushed the Twins into the 7th game of the 1991 World Series. I was so swept up in a moment that had happened twenty years prior, that when I heard Gordon bellow, "Touch 'em all, Kirby Puckett!" I began sobbing.

I’m not able to get swept up in the intensity of a Vikings or a Timberwolves game. Baseball is uniquely suitable for me. I feel comfortable with the slow pace, that there is no clock and for someone on the field to spontaneously pause the game to stroll over and have a chat with a teammate is commonplace. The pace builds anticipation for each pitch, which in an intense game causes fans to look like they are a part of a Pentecostal prayer service, hands clasped and pressed to their lips, eyes misty with tears. A camera pan of football fans during a similarly intense situation will look like a Braveheart battle scene. I’m more of a prayer than a warrior. The way teammates congratulate each other over good plays with simple high-fives and occasional butt slaps is conducive to my reserved nature. Baseball players aren’t known for their cool dance moves and neither am I. As a person who forms attachments slowly, I have time to choose my favorites as the sport is gentle enough to allow a player a 20-season long career. I admit that most of the things I like about baseball have more to do baseball’s vibe than the sport itself. I mean, isn’t it adorable that the manager wears a uniform? What other sport does the coach dress like the players? Silas would probably say that is a very stereotypically girly thing to say.

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly girly and I never thought I would marry a man who participates in the masculine American traditions of sports fandom. There have been moments of frustration when I feel like I’m competing with MLB.com for Silas’s attention and am suffering a horrible loss, and I think, “this is NOT the man I married.” The cumulative effect of thinking, “He’s changed,” again and again in a lamenting way has at times made me feel like our marriage was at risk of collapse. I asked Silas if there are things I do that make him feel similarly. He said, “No. I feel the opposite. You’re always doing things or saying things that remind me of why I first loved you.” He said being married to me isn’t easy, “It’s like a strenuous hike or reading Dostoyevsky–challenging, but so, so satisfying.” His words set me straight and remind me how lucky I am. Thanks to the flurry of advice that people give to a 21-year-old bride, I think I was aware that when I walked down that grassy slope of an aisle toward my 20-year-old, khakis and flip-flops clad groom, he wouldn’t forever be exactly the person standing there. I knew there was so much to learn about each other, that our development wasn’t complete, that our love would need to adapt to new interests, to pounds gained, to hair lost. I didn’t know that new interest would be baseball, but I said, “I do,” in an act of faith that love perseveres.

Comments

  1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
    Very nice :-) I have said "I do" to the Twins ever since I've been old enough to listen to dad's old transistor radio. At the moment the Twins and I are deep into a nasty quarrel.

    I remember helping him with a big yard project one beautiful summer afternoon -- this was way way back in the day, of course -- and I was motivated mostly because we'd have the Twins game on. I think they might have been playing Oakland. Well they immediately batted around on us and the Twins fell behind like 11-0 in the first couple innings...
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