The first time I ever went to the old Tiger Stadium, I went with Lena and Clarence, my grandparents. I was eight or nine; they took me with them everywhere those couple of years.
I remember this day. Al Kaline was playing for the Tigers. They played the Washington State Senators and lost. It was a real defeat, since the Senators were at the bottom of the rankings that year. I got a bobble head doll of Kaline. My grandparents argued all the way home because my grandfather had not asked Grandma if she wanted a hotdog when he bought a second one for him and for me.
I love the sounds of the announcer on radio and television baseball games. My father was not a football fan, but baseball was a thread wound in the fabric of our lives. We watched and listened to baseball, and so did every family I knew. We were Detroit Tigers fans, the whole lot of us.
I had struggled to learn to catch a ball. It was my sister’s husband who took the time to teach me to throw and catch a ball. We stood in the front yard, and he patiently taught me how to catch, when I was five and six years old. Even after I had learned, and I had no playmate, I threw the ball up against the side of the house, catching and throwing until I was ready to play for real. He also taught me how to hold and swing a bat, so I could hit the ball. I was ready to play, and play I did.
As soon as spring came every year, and there was a haze of green on the fields, all of us in the one room school I attended, took our mitts, bats, and balls to school, anticipating the long lunch hour. We gobbled down our food, crossed the playground, and we went across the road to the grassy farmer’s field, where we had worn a ball diamond in the field every spring and fall.
We played ball. We ran, we threw, we swung our bats, and we ran bases until the teacher rang the bell. It didn’t really matter if we won or lost. It was the thrill of the ark of the baseball up in the air, lost momentarily in the glare of the noon day sun. It was the beauty of that white orb of the ball against the blue sky. It was the sound of the bat cracking the ball. It was the occasional home run, the well thrown pitch, the amazing catch: those were the things that made us love the game.
I associate baseball with my own blood because of the day I was blinded by the sun, and the ball came down squarely on my nose. It bled like it would never stop. That was the end of the game that day, but not the end of baseball for me. We kept playing, but I had learned to protect my face.
Once I attended town school, our best days in girl’s gym were the days we could go out to the ball fields and play ball. Then we girls grew up, and we didn’t play ball anymore. Childhood was over, and for me that ended my affair with baseball. There’s still a hole in my heart where it was. I wonder if, like Kevin Coster’s Field of Dreams, will I get a chance in heaven to play ball again, only not in a field in Iowa, but in a farmer’s field in Michigan. I hope so.