STU’s Ms. October

After lacing up her cleats for the last time, a student reflects on baseball and boys

Diamond in the Dugout: Lauren Bird says “I feel closer to God on the baseball diamond than I do in church.” (Tom Bateman/AQ)
Diamond in the Dugout: Lauren Bird says “I feel closer to God on the baseball diamond than I do in church.” (Tom Bateman/AQ)

I was getting my wisdom teeth pulled a few weeks ago and my dentist asked me if I was still playing baseball.

Talking isn’t the easiest thing to do when your mouth is numb, but I managed to flop out a clumsy “yes,” although this summer was probably my last season.

I’ve had the same dentist my whole life, just as I’ve had the same team, the Yankees. He is a gracious man with tender fingers, but, as he reminded me, he’s a Red Sox fan. I told him I wasn’t sure if this dentist-patient thing was working out after all.

Being the gracious man he is, he still pulled my teeth.

***

There are a million things I could say about the glories of fall. But only one of them really matters: the road to the World Series. Once teams clinch their divisions or wild card births, I have all I need to make me truly happy.

Baseball is a game without limits. Time is measured by strikes and outs, and if you’ve got the heart, you can always buy another inning’s worth.

There really is nothing like a crisp night game when the sun disappears behind the stadium, gilding the crown that protects the jewel. Perfect white lines run perpendicular, touching only at home; 90 feet represents the distance between being safe and getting out and there in the middle of this perfectly cut diamond, lies the feeling of infallibility.

Most people call it a mound but I’ve always thought of it as more of a mountain. I can’t tell you the fear I’ve always had climbing it, which only got worse when I reached the summit and put my foot on the rubber. Eight other anxious human beings are counting on your foot to land in the right spot, your fingers to grip the ball just so, and the rest of your body to follow your arm in perfect unison.

But when the ball escapes your hand and you watch it cut the air and listen to the symphony of figure-eight seams spinning toward an unknown future, the fear magically, evaporates. That split second between the release and the outcome – the moment of possibility – is the reason that I still love baseball.

***

Being a girl whose first love was baseball has had its problems.

When I was in the third grade, I was made fun of for wearing my cleats to school, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never be shortstop for the New York Yankees or even play junior ball.

Still, I played competitively on a boys’ team in Fredericton until I was 18. I learned more in the dugout than I ever did in any middle school sex-ed class, and I got a good look at the inside world of boys.

When a member of the team showed up to a Saturday morning game, still half drunk, my coach made him pitch. He stood on the mound almost wobbling, trying to find the strike zone. And he did. I blame it on testosterone.

I also learned, but never mastered, the art of “baseball chatter.” It’s a series of words strung together by “umms” and “hmms” and taken low then high for emphasis. It is cheering at its best: “hmm now babaay ahh kid, whataya say now, little poke now, find a little green out there kid.”

When the conversation wasn’t on girls (which wasn’t often), it came down to two sides – the Yankees and the Red Sox. When you grow up a baseball fan, you pick your side at a young age and stick with it. I am a Yankees fan primarily because when I was in Gr. 4, my mother bought me a Yankees hat, which I wore out.

Boys are much more passionate about this sort of thing than girls are. They read sports pages. I was amazed at how they rattled off stats and names of players. During the summer months, I would usually just nod my head and pretend I knew that Johnny Damon got traded with the condition of a haircut or that the Red Sox were leading the Eastern Division. It was weird enough that I played baseball, they didn’t expect me to know about it too.

Still, they never made me feel like a “girl,” although they made fun of my hoop earrings and were shocked at the sight of a runaway tampon that escaped my ball bag and found itself a cozy hiding spot on the dugout floor.

***

If it weren’t for midterms, I’d say October is the best month of the year. There’s Thanksgiving, Halloween and, of course, the World Series.

My dentist is convinced that the Yankees will take the cake, and I hope (and pray) that he’s right (lthough I’m not sure they’ve got the pitching to do it).

Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic this autumn. I know the likelihood of ever pulling my socks up high and tucking in my jersey again is slim.

I will miss grounders and digging my foot into the batters box. I will miss the smell of pine tar and the sound of metal cleats on rough dirt. I will miss the pressure of throwing the perfect pitch and even the sore arm that comes from the 99 per cent that aren’t.

And perhaps most of all, now that I’m in my early 20s and facing the uncertainty of adulthood, I will miss that moment of infallibility – the hope of perfection, and the fact that it was shared by the guys around me. If I’m honest, most of the time I feel closer to God on the baseball diamond than I do in a church.

I guess it’s called “home” plate for a reason.

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