Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Evanescing green theatres," or what baseball offers

On the cusp of the 20th century, as several new baseball parks were set to open, player salaries continued to skyrocket, and the game was in the throes of the Steroid Era, Roger Angell, age 79, was heard to mutter, "Baseball is changing at warp speed."

In "Are We Having Fun Yet," which appeared in the May 17, 1999 issue of The New Yorker, Angell replaced his usual Spring optimism with melancholy, essaying the state of the sport in unhappy terms, from the exploding but dulling home-run rate and what he saw as over-reliance on statistics. Near the end of the essay, after summarizing the new retro ballparks, he warms a bit, offering a string of graphic and evocative memories of his favorite, long-gone parks (Polo Grounds, Tiger Stadium, County Stadium), and making a characteristic discovery, the kind of Angellic wisdom that provides the common thread through his essays on the game, from his first in the early-1960s to his most recent blog post in April:
Is it youthful memory (but I wasn't all that young) that keeps hold of these inconsequential fragments, or is it the thrilling concentration of mind and appetite that the old, unhyped sport one made easy for us? What baseball offers, what it does best, is to bring about moments that, because of their particularity—bottom  of the eighth, two outs, three-and-one on the batter, and so on—appear to approximate the random and electric surprises of life itself, but perhaps only in these creaky, evanescing green theatres could the two, however glacingly, have seemed like one.
from "Are We Having Fun Yet?" in The New Yorker, May 17, 1999. Illustration by Richard Thompson

I love visiting sites of old baseball parks. See: Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field here; Yankee, Shea, and Tiger Stadiums here. I have fond memories of old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, where I saw many Orioles games as a kid, but I've lately been mourning a park I never visited. My wife and I moved to northern Illinois in 1995, four years after the demolition of Comiskey Park, which had been standing since 1910. The now-no-longer-new park that replaced it across the street has grown on me quite a bit over the years, but I so wish I'd taken in a game at the old place. Several years ago "BrokerToTheStars" uploaded a three-part video he took at the last game at the old Comiskey on September 30, 1990. (The Sox beat the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, behind the pitching of Jack McDowell and Bobby Thigpen.) Check out the sights and sounds and, virtually, the smells. I can pretend, anyway.

Old Comiskey Park, on the way out, in 1991. Image via flickr.

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