It Happens Every Spring
It’s Easter Sunday, and the season always brings with it such a spirit of hope and renewal that I can’t make myself write what I had planned about the U.S. Supreme Court. You know, the Court that’s so worried about “freedom” that it seems to regard national concern for one another’s health as authoritarian overreaching while the strip-searching of jaywalkers by black-helmeted soldier-cops is Tom Paine’s dream of liberty.
Instead, I have to tell a modest family story about baseball, the one sport connected to the earth’s circling of the sun (it begins with Spring Training and ends with a Harvest Festival). Maybe it begins in T.S. Eliot’s cruelest month, but as George Carlin reminds us, it is the sweetest sport: “In baseball, the object is to go home and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home.”
Anyway, I grew up in Houston, Texas, and way back in 1962 that city was given a professional baseball team, the Colt 45s (they became the Astros after the firearms manufacturer complained of infringement and the city adopted the space program as its own). We were lucky to live a short bike ride across South Main from the new Colt stadium and soon-to-rise Astrodome. Our father owned a modest family business, and with three sons who played baseball and two daughters who would have played, too, had Title IX been part of the New Deal or Kennedy’s New Frontier, Dad purchased four season box seats just behind the first base dugout. I went with him to the first game and watched the Colts beat the Cubs. What I remember was seeing legend Ernie Banks stand right in front of me.
After half a century of family journeys, births, marriages, more births, deaths, suffering, joys, adventures and celebrations, my brother, who now runs the old family business, has seen to it that we still have those box seats. From Colt Stadium to the Astrodome to the unfortunately named Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park), four seats, still on the first base line, have some Smiths in them.
Well, this year marks the 50th anniversary of baseball in Houston. On Thursday night, opening day eve, my brother was called by the Astros organization. It turns out that we are the only remaining season ticket holders to have held on to our seats since 1962. My brother was invited to raise the 50th Anniversary Flag in center field during the pregame festivities. He reached me on my cell at a political fundraiser in Austin, natch, and asked me to go with him. I stood with him at the flagpoles beyond the center field fence, applauding a little wildly as he raised the flag.
Like other sports, baseball is such a big business now it can seem like a different critter than the one played in front of me back in 1962. I guess a lot is different. Baseball used to have its meditative, between-pitches and between-inning moments. Now, of course, idle human moments are treated like jaywalking. Pause and think too long in America and you might get strip-searched. So the ballpark is filled with noise, intrusive advertising and giant screens, eating up attention like cotton candy.
I don’t think I’m being sentimental or overly romanticizing the sport to say, however, that baseball somehow still escapes the mad clutches of Moloch. I don’t know how. It just does.
I can’t claim for baseball some special status among traditions that help hold families together as they hurtle into the future. For some it is, no doubt, a spiritual tradition. For others, an ongoing family enterprise. For still others, it might be a love of literature, or cooking, or horses, or a love of mountains or the sea.
Even members of those families that have flown apart during all that hurtling into the future stuff can, when their particular opening days come ‘round with the seasons, pause a moment and raise a flag to what might yet be. Spring and all.