I am surprised that I have made it this far without missing baseball, but I realize now that probably that was just denial.
Things were going well…I was photographing Cactus League games in Arizona, writing stories, chatting with players, fellow photographers and fans. I was living the baseball-associated life that started nearly 70 years ago in my front yard in Endicott, N.Y.
On March 12, I got a text from the Arizona Diamondbacks that they were rained out. Spring training games are not played in the rain. No big deal, there would be a game tomorrow.
But, baseball-wise there was no tomorrow. At four P.M. Eastern time, just when the D’backs game had been scheduled to start, spring training was canceled by Major League Baseball.
So, that was that. Spring training was over, and the season was postponed. Along with it went minor league baseball, college baseball, high school baseball, Little League…baseball itself was on extended hold.
I pretty much dismissed that as the way it should be…health above all else.
Now that it has continued into July, I am able to reflect. Much of what we have lost in society is below the surface a bit. The domino effect of deprivation extends deep into our culture. What I have lost does not compare to the tragedy hundreds of thousands of people have suffered, so this lament is merely a personal observation that I share in common with many of those in the “baseball niche” of society.
The thing about baseball is that it tends to be there. It tends to be the constant in our lives. It is the conversation starter, (How ‘bout those Yankees?) the argument thesis (Willie, Mickey or the Duke?), the rallying cry (Let’s go, Mets!).
It is the go-to for an evening out, the TV remote’s target, the crossword clue (Alou and Ott are favorites of the New York Times).
It is the “old North Side ball orchard.” It is the city park. It is the neighborhood. It is the backyard. It is the ambience at NBT Bank Stadium, at Falcon Park, at Doubleday Field, at Phil Winters Field...at every park in every town. It is unique to each and the same for all.
A few days ago, the Syracuse Mets hosted a CNY Food Bank giveaway…some 1,000 cars snaked their way through the parking lot in line for boxes of much needed food. I was on hand to photograph the event, part of a gallery of my photos of good works being done during the pandemic. It was a line reminiscent of fans streaming into the parking lot for a July ballgame, but inside, the ball park was empty and silent.
I made my way inside, walked along the silent concourse, now filled with construction material instead of fans. The results of current park improvements are evident. The field was green, but dry, daily manicuring currently unnecessary during this extended off-season.
The schedule said it was the All-Star break, three days for the best of AAA baseball to compete while the rest relaxed with three off days. It would have been an empty stadium anyway, but only for a few days.
I sat in a new grandstand seat to soak in the silence. I realized that even with the empty field, the stillness of the air, the complete silence, there was an energy that only a ballpark can hold.
I strayed into the part of my mind where I go to seek poetry. That is where the other side of the game resides, the part that it is not on the field. That is where I am reminded that I miss the essence of the game more than the game itself.
I miss the three mile drive to NBT Bank Stadium, and the brief conversation with the people in charge of the parking lot. I miss unloading my photo gear before being wanded by the security people. I miss the ticket takers and office workers as I enter. I miss chatting with fans on the elevator ride to the top floor and I miss the ambiance of the press box. I miss the friends I have made there and the conversations on subjects far beyond the action on the field.
I miss sitting in the broadcast booth, headphones in place, spending one (unforeseen) summer in unfamiliar territory, sitting with two actual professional broadcasters and a former major league pitcher, and being allowed to talk on air about baseball from a chair previously occupied by two friends who began their rise to the major leagues there.
I miss that on my birthday (today as it happens) the press box manager would tell me in a few seconds, how many days old I was.
I miss standing on the field, ostensibly talking about grass and dirt and wiffle ball with the head groundskeeper, but really sharing the bond that brings us to baseball, an intangible affection for what takes place on that grass, and how we are part of it.
I miss chatting with my fellow photographers as our eyes dart around the field looking for the next great shot.
I miss the pregame ceremony and the Mets general manager selling the game he loves and inspiring the crowd, large or small, to love it as well.
I miss the “front office” staff that treats me so well, a staff that makes baseball happen here, working from morning until late in the cold spring and hot summer nights, and the young women and men who orchestrate the between-innings on-field games that thrill the youngsters and woo them into becoming the next generation of fans. I miss high-fiving young men, mute and unrecognizable in their guise as team mascots.
I miss being asked by the official scorer what I thought of a play, and the sense that my opinion may have worked its way into the statistical fabric of the game, and I miss being dazzled by the technical genius of the people in the computer center who bring life to the “big board” that chronicles the on-field action.
I miss the media people whose use of cameras and computers takes the game to the fans who follow the team even when they are not at the ballpark.
I miss chatting between innings with the friends I have made among ushers and security people and I miss the fans who have become friends, an inning or so at a time, and I miss sitting with a friend of over 50 years, the first person I met at Syracuse University, talking around the game about our common life-bonds, him chiding me for missing a potentially great photo because I was explaining the infield fly rule.
The empty ballpark may lack the sounds of bat on ball, of leather on leather, of vendors’ cries, of fans’ cheers, but it holds for me the memories of seasons past and those yet to come.
The optimist in me believes that this is merely a greatly extended off-season, a time when we reflect on the past season, and more important, look forward to the coming one. For those of us with the Syracuse Mets, and those of who root for the “other guys,” and those of us who are simply fans of the game, we suffer the silence of an empty ballpark.
But, if all goes as we hope, this particular off-season will only extend until mid-February, 2021, when, at long last, the traditional first day of baseball arrives, and pitchers and catchers report.