Baseball FeverEllen Jo Roberts
Nothing sounds more like summer than a baseball game broadcast over the radio. The tinny drone of the announcers calling the innings' events, punctuated by the fans’ jeers or cheers, sound like summer to me, like no other noise. At one time in my life I had a serious case of baseball fever. While the daily score no longer rules me, I still find the sport everywhere: the small historic baseball field across the street from my house, the faded vintage decal in my car window, the photographs of my nephews in their officially licensed Major League Baseball ® garb.
We are surrounded by baseball, because it is often a used as metaphor for life in America. That’s why we root so strongly for the home team, the eternal champs and the ever-struggling underdogs alike. The energetic young rookie, starting fresh and learning hard-won lessons. The seasoned old-timer aiming for one last golden season. The homer in the gloamin’. Baseball unites people of vastly disparate age, education and socio-economic background who just so happen to live in the same area code. You may not agree on anything else outside of that baseball stadium, but while raising hands and voices to the home team you are united as one.
Evolving from folk games played in Great Britain as far back as the 1600s, baseball shares similar traits with cricket, yet remains distinctly new world. Since the first pro team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, were created in 1869, organized baseball swiftly spread across the continent into every major city. The current roster of major league teams numbers 30, split into two leagues. The sport connects us over decades, generations and centuries. In my diehard fan days, from opening day to end of the season I lived and breathed by the daily score. Newspaper clippings of game photos decorated my bedroom hallway, my own sports “hall of fame”. I had crushes on outfielders and wrote summer poems during the winter months. Worthless baseball cards filled lovingly-decorated boxes, priceless to me only because of my own sentiments and allegiances, cheering on journeymen who had played most of their best years in some other city. My summers were spent in the bleachers, or huddled on steps, standing room only, my brother and I squinting to the outfield and keeping track with pencil and scorecard.
Though I have appreciation for all of the great players and fabled legends of baseball, my team is the Chicago Cubs. Since moving out west and losing sight of WGN I’ve been blissfully removed from the heartbreak. Loving the Cubs is a special kind of penance, a sort of masochism that is passed on genetically. My family is mental for the Cubs, and if I call during game time I will only get distracted, perfunctory response to any attempted conversation. Notorious underdogs, the downtrodden Cubbies won their last World Series in 1908. Legend has it the team was cursed in the 1940s by Billy Sianis of Chicago’s famed Billy Goat Tavern, for disallowing his goat entry into the park. Despite their notorious lack of luck, their diehard fans stay true blue, filling historic Wrigley Field year-round through good seasons and bad. The beautiful ballpark, with its ivy-lined bricks and hand-operated scoreboard, was built in 1916 and definitely inspired my enchantment with baseball. Planted smack dab in the middle of a bustling north-side neighborhood, Wrigley Field has always been the 10th player in the game and, for me, always the MVP. Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine (C.U.B.S.) attempted to keep lights from the park, but in 1988 the neighborhood succumbed after threats of the team being moved to a new park in the 'burbs. Night games began, after 72 years of daylight baseball. The "Friendly Confines" remains, however, a portal to a different time, a well-manicured oasis steeped in history.
My first major league baseball game took place 30 summers ago. I had no idea what was happening on the field, but the festivity of those seated around me, the sunshine and breeze on my face, the smells of beer and hot dogs and coconutty sun tan oil were all instantly captivating. The vendors hawking their treats. The rambunctious camaraderie and humor of the fans enchanted me as they chanted against opposing teams, taunting outfielders with rude rhymes and throwing back bad home run balls onto the field in disgust. Occasionally, during a lull in the game, the bleacher fans would comically chant against each other, "Right Field Sucks!"/ "Left Field Sucks!" jabbing the air and laughing 'til one side finally gave up. The first time I ever smelled the sweet, strange smoke of marijuana lingering in the air, was in the Wrigley Field bleachers as stock brokers and preppies passed a joint around a nearby bench. My Uncle was a White Sox fan and always dismissed the Cubs fans and their northside park as "yuppie" in contrast to his blue collar southside Comiskey Park crew, with their rowdy fireworks, disco demolitions and people brutishly being flung off the upper deck. Beloved promoter and baseball hall-of-famer Bill Veeck unites the history of the two otherwise disparate teams by being the creator of an icon in each park: he was responsible for both the "exploding scoreboard" at Sox Park, and planting the first sprigs of ivy on the walls at Cubs Park.
To this day, "baseball movies" always kill me. I cannot tear myself away, and often times get choked up at classics like Field of Dreams, The Natural, and even silly ones like Fever Pitch and Major League rouse me to cheer, and sometimes to tears. If the Cubs win the World Series in my lifetime I imagine I will collapse in a sweaty heap of ectoplasmic goo.
Small towns nationwide are home to local clubs, high school and college teams as well as farm teams for the bigs. The same enthusiasm and magic is generated from these small scale organizations. Clarkdale and Jerome were once homes to rivals, back in the days of the United Verde Mining Operations. The Muckers were Jerome's team and they battled the Clarkdale Wolves, until the mid-20th century. A more recent development in the local sports world is the Northern Arizona Baseball League, with teams in the Verde Valley, Prescott area tri-cities, Williams and Flagstaff, including the Cottonwood Toros, Paulden Diablos, Clarkdale Miners, Camp Verde Blue Sox, Prescott Brew Crew, Rimrock Lions, Williams Marineros, Prescott Valley West Siders and the Chino Valley Cougars."Wood bat baseball at its finest, " says Carlos Godina, Clarkdale Miner and League President, referring to the participants as the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. "Well, maybe I am going overboard, but at least we have a baseball league. No more driving to Phoenix to play ball. Now your families can come watch you play locally. These are great days, men.”
Playing every Sunday afternoon March through June, with championship series in July, teams may be cheered on at various locations throughout Yavapai County: Yavapai College in Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain Middle School, Doug Davis Field at Camp Verde High School.
I've heard that the average baseball game generally offers only 10 minutes of actual action during 9 innings. Much of the game is spent waiting, watching, hoping, praying, fighting off pitches, brushing back base-runners. Foul balls, warm-ups, rude rhymes, the 7th inning stretch, warm sunshine and cold beer. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. It's a whole lot of anticipation. Just like life.
Ellen Jo Roberts grew up in Chicago in the 1980s.She used to spend all of her babysitting money on baseball tickets.
She lives in Clarkdale Arizona with Bike Daddy Chad, Five Head Floyd, Super Spaz Ivan, Ned the Nut and Hazel Basil.
Read all about it at ellenjo.com