"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you"…Paul Simon.
Baseball spring training has already started. The grass on the field is so green it nearly blinds you, the uniforms are pristine, as are the records, as everyone starts out 0-0. The pitchers and catchers are running wind sprints down the first base line, bones creaking, muscles aching as they try to sluff off three months of dormancy.
Baseball is born again. Still a child's game, it appears each spring just as the first buds of the cherry blossoms emerge and turn upwards toward the spring warmth. I am ancient but I am once again a boy of eight at the first seasonal crack of the bat. I am again the lad with grass stained knees, Yogi Berra catcher's glove as I feel the first sting of my palm as my brother's pitches settle solidly in the fold of my glove. My baseball idols are long gone; to the grave or in bone weary dotage.
There was Joe DiMaggio, so graceful on a baseball field, so effortlessly did he hit and run and catch that you felt he ought to be wearing a tuxedo, an orchid in his lapel. Or Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived, who was so intense you would have thought he despised that ball and the sixty feet, six inches it took to arrive at home plate. Then there was Willie Mays, every boy's dream, for he played the game of baseball with the joy of an eight year old, and played it better than any man ever has.
As I look out on that emerald diamond the ghosts of Joe and Willie and Ted are out there, mixing it up with the players of "now". They stand just over the shoulder of the kid from Triple A that's been invited to spring training. They appreciate the raw talent of the kid two years out of high school who will hone his craft in Triple A, in a small ball park in Fresno or Billings or Visalia, who offer .25 cent hot dogs and dog races to get them to come to the park. Like the buds of the cherry tree the good ones will blossom and you'll see them in the majors and say "I knew them when…."
So baseball is born again. Bart Giamatti's sad refrain to its October demise dims with the first crack of the bat, with the smell of popcorn and hot dogs in the bleacher seats, with the scent of fresh green grass. And ancient "I" am once again catching the swift sure pitches of my brother, even as summer dusk dims our vision and we are lost even to the call to supper…for our hearts are full with the magic of a child's game that we will carry in our hearts forever.
Dedicated to my brother, John, who shares with me a brother love…and a love for a child's game, even now in extra innings.