When the Tampa Bay Rays lost game five of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers, I ceased being a baseball fan. I questioned all the time spent watching and reading and hoping and dreaming. I concluded that all that emotion and time would be better placed elsewhere.

I was through with baseball.

That was Tuesday night.

Thursday night, I couldn’t sleep. So, I opened up an essay I had been meaning to read. It was a New Yorker article written by a young John Updike regarding the very last game that Ted Williams ever played at Fenway Park.

At 11:00 PM I began texting quotes to my son, much to his amazement, as I’m always asleep by that time.

By the time I had finished reading, and had repented of my earlier foolishness, I was once again a fan.

There is an intoxicating and maddening magic in this game that I cannot explain. It is a magic that infected me as a young boy under the spell of Frank Robinson and later the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. It was heightened through my years in St. Louis by the “Wizard of Oz”, “Whiteyball”, and one player who would reach our hearts, Willie Dean McGee.

The magic faded through our years in Southwest Florida, a player’s strike dowsing the wonder and exposing the dark business side of the game.

But it would never go away. Bradenton was the winter home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I lived in the shadow of a field where Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell would regularly play. I stood on home plate once and wondered at the fact that I was standing where they each had stood.

And then, in 2008, a lowly underfunded team from Tampa Bay slew the big boys in the American League East, and the magic was fully revived. Until last Tuesday.

John Updike is one in a long tradition of gifted writers, captured by the magic of the game, trying to capture that magic in prose. I texted to my son passages like the following.

First in defense of the charge that Williams’ hitting never advanced the cause of Red Sox wins, Updike says,

“Indeed, for Williams to have distributed all his hits so they did nobody else any good would constitute a feat of placement unparalleled in the annals of selfishness.”

With a novelist’s eye, he describes some of those attending Williams’ last game:

Two girls, one of them with pert buckteeth and eyes as black as vest buttons, the other with white skin and flesh-colored hair, like an underdeveloped photograph of a redhead, came and sat on my right. On my other side was one of those frowning, chestless young-old men who can frequently be seen, often wearing sailor hats, attending ball games alone.

Describing Williams’ last trip to the plate, he brings us into Fenway to join in the wonder of it:

Instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment.

Updike gets closer to the wonder as the tension mounts with that last at bat:

There will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

Hope is, indeed, unrealistic, and this really gets at the heart of the magic. Updike sees it clearly.

All baseball fans believe in miracles; the question is, how many do you believe in?

In spite of myself, I love this game.

Go, Rangers.

3 thoughts on “Miracles

  1. Mike

    Its way more than an ordinary game, it’s an experience of sheer joy!
    1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Psalm 100:1-2

  2. Jenny

    Hi Randy – I’ve been pondering your post for a couple of days. I was considering posting a nice little comment – but then you BETRAYED me. (chuckle)
    Actually, I mused in my head whether the “magic” and “miracle” of a sport like baseball isn’t solely the stats, the excitement, or the post-season possibilities – but sharing all of those elements with your grown and no so-grown children. Would it still be AS wonderfully magical if you didn’t get to have this shared hobby with your sons; that gives you a great excuse to spend time together?
    Just a thought from an avid NFL fan. GO COWBOYS!!!

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