Middle of the Fifth

Her Diamond World

Walking through that turnstile for her was like walking through the Wardrobe, leaving one world behind and entering a new world, where the fears and stress that existed in this world dissipated and were replaced with fears and stresses of a Diamond World. Where life and death were not actually life and death, but euphemisms for succeeding and failing. It was a world within itself, one where she left the problems of the real world behind at the turnstile. Often the joys and pains of this world creeped into her real world, but seldom did she carry the baggage in with her.

This was a world that, despite what happened yesterday, it was a new world today. Yes, losing streaks and standing deficits continued to be built, but every day was new and there was always a chance to win, regardless of what happened the day before. Infinite possibilities existed with the start of every game and even with each inning. Even an ordinary cold spring game could become something special, something historic and magical. Legends of this world could be created on a single at-bat against an archrival on any old, hot August day. There were 162 chances a year to produce a moment that could be shared for a generation to come. This was a world that she wanted to live in. This was a world that she loved. And with that click of the turnstile, the other world, a world of bills and jobs and traffic and all the other nuisances that crowded a life, were turned away.

No, this Diamond World was a different world. A world measured in pitches, outs, and innings, not seconds, minutes, and hours. And the innings never started over at one; they just kept going, regardless of the hours that existed outside the turnstile. This was a perfect world, a world she understood without question, right down to the infield fly rule.

As Abigail took a sip of her beer and felt the late-day sun rays hit her in the face, she could feel herself sinking deeper into her seat, almost as if she were melting. She would close her eyes and let the warmth envelop her, as the symphony of a pre-game ballpark played into her ears. Thousands of voices swirled and mingled in the air to create a steady beat of noise … an energy that pulsed through her. It was peppered by the crack of a bat or the occasional beer vendor shouting, and they always seemed perfectly timed to bring just the right rhythm to the ballpark music.

Of course, it wasn’t actually perfect. It was imperfect in so many ways. It, obviously, is not real life, but a game. And while the real world couldn’t be escaped from and had real consequences, she knew and understood that it was unlikely that anything would change in that three-hour sojourn to this world. As she pondered the small wash of loneliness that swept over her among 45,000 other people, she realized how imperfect it was.

When she was younger and when her children were born, she had envisioned bringing them to games and sharing this life with them. She even thought through the years of how time with them might be marked by trips and seasons in the ballpark, as they went from squirming in her lap to asking a million questions that she had two million answers for, to them driving her to the game, to all of them relaxing and drinking beer together behind home plate. She got as far as half a million questions, but real life interfered and the fire forever changed the course of their lives. From time to time, her daughter made a half-hearted offer to go with her, but she felt like it was forced on her. And, of course, her son wanted nothing to do with baseball. It didn’t help that the team was usually out of the running by June, so the only excitement they ever saw around the team came from their mother.

In the pre-game, she liked to watch other fans as much as she liked watching the preparations on the field. She liked to watch as the older veterans of fandom would settle into their seats with their scoresheets and carefully enter the lineups into the boxes. They would go through a media guide or scorebook they had bought at the beginning of the season and review stat splits on the players in the lineup. She could tell they were making mental notes. Once the game started, these old-school hardball scholars would meticulously fill out the scoresheet, logging every play, probably the way that their parents had shown them a long time ago. Of course, they would have variances in symbols that broke with what their fathers had taught them, but, without doubt, you could connect the dots between generations based solely on scoresheets. Some of these fans would also track pitch counts, making strange dots, circles, or lines next to the pitchers’ names.

Filling out a scoresheet was a dying art. As a small child, Abigail would watch her father in awe as he filled out his scoresheet during games. Most of the time he only did it when he was at the stadium, but occasionally he would sit there and score a game in front of the radio or TV. She used to cheer on players to score just to complete the diamond in the little boxes, even if they were on the other team. She hated seeing all those unfinished diamonds. However, it helped her understand the game better. It helped her visualize player stats and that batters fail more often than they succeed. It also helped her, when it happened, visualize just how dominant a pitcher can be.

She was in awe of it and still was today. She rarely kept score herself, though, but she appreciated it. She feared that it might die with her generation. She had once tried to show her daughter how to do it, but she quickly and repeatedly got distracted by the noise and sights of the modern ballpark.

The younger, independent generation, the one her children belonged to, were raucous and loud at the stadium. She appreciated their enthusiasm and knew that they were the bridge to future generations of fans. However, they seemingly were opposite to the older veterans of the game. They wanted and needed the noise of the stadium and the company of their friends. The more, the better. Some were there to impress a girl, some were there to drink, and some were there to fulfill the traditions that their parents had instilled in them. There would be the occasional “kid” that would be 100% focused on the game action and she often found herself smiling as she watched them.

Regardless of their reasons for being there, she loved that they were there and that they were loud and raucous. They were exerting their own independence and they were choosing to do so at the stadium. Baseball needed that. They need more fans like that. Somewhere along the way, baseball seemed to lose its magic and drawing power. It fell behind basketball and football. The younger generation just wasn’t drawn to it as her generation and generations past had been. So, baseball needed these fans, as much as they needed the older fans.

Of course, it seemed at every game there was a father and/or mother bringing their kid or kids to their first games. The signs were obvious … a father excitedly pointing out everything going on and mothers buying every souvenir that passed by and photographing every last detail of the game. Their kids, of course, with the remains of ketchup from a hot dog on their faces just squirmed in their seats in hats and shirts at least two sizes too big and cared more about the cotton candy guy than they did about what happened on the field.

A first game was a right of passage, so even if the expense of a game and everything that went with it was a bit beyond their budget, they pulled out all the stops regardless. Professional baseball existed when football and basketball were just infants. It is a generational game more than others, one whose love is passed down from father to daughter, from mother to son. It seemed a rarity that a kid would just pick up the game on their own. It is more likely inherited from a generation before—whether it is a father trying to teach his son the skills that he was never able to quite master or a mother just trying to create those same moments with her daughter as she did with her father. Like a family ring, one generation passes it to the next.

The Fan felt that she let down the next generation. In her inability to pass along the love to her own children, she felt she was contributing to the death of the game. Even though the stadiums around the country continued to fill, Abigail felt there were fewer and fewer fans that truly understood the game and its history. By not passing along her love to her children, she felt sadness for not just herself, but for the game itself.

Loneliness, even grief, overwhelmed her this day in her sanctuary. Her Diamond World was taking on an unusual invasion, but it was an invasion from within. Then, an unusually loud crack of the bat grabbed her attention and her eyes turned from within to what was going on at home plate. He was taking his swings and he was driving every ball over the wall. Even though she was hundreds of feet away, she could see the scowl on his face, almost as if each baseball had personally offended him. But he was swinging well, better than she had seen him swinging in a while. Even though he had lost much of his power, he was still finding holes and driving the balls through them just enough to keep him on the team. To see him knocking the balls over the walls was a good sign.

His turn in the cage seemed to grab the attention of the spattering of the crowd that was in their seats. With the first crack, the whole stadium seemed to get quiet for a moment. Fans didn’t know whether to cheer for him or just remain quiet out of respect or even fear. He, for so long, was a hero of the past.

For the old veteran fans, Tuck was a throwback to how players used to play the game … men that were tough and ran out every ball, regardless of the swing. Men that hustled all the time, and when they succeeded, didn’t do dances or show up the other team. They simply played their game.

For the younger fans, he was the centerpiece of this team when they were first introduced to the game. Watching him on the field brought in memories of games with their moms and dads. In this player, they saw the gleams in the eyes of their parents as they talked about the game. He was a reminder of their childhood, before things became complicated.

For the parents with their kids, he was a reminder of the days when they were growing into their own independence … a time when they started forming their own opinions on baseball, independent of the opinions of their parents. While their parents surely would have loved this player, he was something more to this generation … the first great star that made it easy to stay with the game long after they stopped going to games with their parents.

This player brought together the generations within a ballpark. Whether he liked it or not, he brought the fans together in respect, admiration, and even love. Players like this, with the combination of longevity, skill, and instinct, did not come along too often. They were something special in their ability to unite fans behind them while, at the same time, lifting the team around them. As the old saying goes, rising tides lift all ships; that was his impact on teams while in his prime. They were the type of player that even opposing teams’ fans admired and respected. In the past, they may have hated them for how they would have beaten their own teams, almost single-handedly. However, now, they respected them and wished their own teams had more players like him.

And, of course, as every adult in the ballpark knew, he was the brother of a true hero … a hero that wore a uniform but played no games. This fact … this sacrifice elevated the player even more for the fans. His brother was the savior of children.

No one knew this more than Abigail. It was her children his brother had given his life saving, and, in doing so, it was her life his brother saved. While, at times, her Diamond World had an empty pall about it, her real world remained full because of the acts of this man’s brother. 

She thought of all the Christmases, birthday parties, and vacations since the fire. She thought of the smiles on the faces of her children through the years and the laughter that filled her house through the years. She thought of proms and graduations and first cars and the joy of the years since the fire.

As she watched this man with the scowl, angrily pummelling baseballs into oblivion, Abigail realized how much Tuck had lost. When the fire first happened, she had read about how his brother was the last of his family and he was alone in this world. She was humbled by this and suddenly felt guilt for her own little pity party that she had been feeling. She was alone in this ballpark, but so was he. However, when she left, she went home to her family … to her children, and indirectly because of that, he went home alone. It was as if being alone in her Diamond World was some sort of penance.

She let herself sob for a moment, as she thought that those few fans around her must have thought her crazy, but she quickly pulled herself together. She let herself feel the warmth of the sun again … let the heat dry her tears. She let herself enjoy the sounds of the ballpark again. She let herself enjoy the smell of barbeque and grass in the air. She let herself enjoy the colors and contrasts of the park again. She let herself enjoy the taste of the pretzel and beer again. Abigail felt she owed it to the sacrifice that had been made for her, so she let herself smile again as she stood up and cheered as loud as she could for this man.

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