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Baseball Marks the Time photo

I was young when the Bash Brothers ruled the East Bay. So young that in our classroom, we treated the 6.9 earthquake that struck minutes before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series like another part of “The Battle of the Bay”, an annoying inconvenience, although fun to go through—all of us regaling each other about where we were when it happened, how it felt like one of the roller coasters at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, how our mothers screamed but it was no big deal for us. We were too young to listen to the news, to register the damage, to understand the death toll. I was too young to realize that when my parents were arguing about my schooling, they were arguing about things deemed out-of-bounds. Too young to realize that the quiet moments they shared, after my Dad made it back from the deadly collapse of the Bay Bridge that he took every day to work, were the good kinds of quiet, like baseball was the good kind of quiet: full of the hushed awe the crowd shares when something’s truly at stake, when the bases are loaded with two outs, where second chances are like the changing of the innings, your chosen team up to bat once more. ​​This was the year of Field of Dreams, the year I heard James Earl Jones' voice every time I was in the bleachers, talking about baseball marking the time, about being dipped in magic waters.

The teacher gave up trying to corral us at all that week. For those four games where the A’s shut out San Francisco, it was as if our class had been dipped—not in magic waters, but in pure sugar. Finally, I wasn't the kid that was bullied. I was the one talking about baseball with her peers. We were a team unto ourselves, and for that foam-finger insulated moment, there was the same harmony off-field that I felt when I watched baseball. We declared our devotion to the heroes of the Coliseum, wore whatever greens we could find for those of us not able to afford team wear, and laughed and cheered as if we were in the stadium for those games ourselves. Our teacher wheeled in a TV and put on taped replays of the games, the only time I remember us being quiet during those days. 

I was too young to know what steroids were or that heroes were fallible. Baseball and every man who wore the green and gold of my home team were as perfect then as a child's eye can render them. So young that I had to receive permission to stay up and watch the Oakland A's win the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, perched on my dad's knee like a knight manning a crenellated parapet. Mom didn't like that Dad's intended solution to the late games was calling me in sick to school the following days. I pretended not to hear them talk about me like they were debating team trade strategy. 

This was—as I suppose it always is for any young kid who loves both libraries and being outdoors, who loves the quiet and discovers with curious joy that they also like sports—the best time for a child to fall in love with the unspoken poetry of baseball: the crack of the bat, the lofty arch of a ball flying up into the air and then seemingly drawn down by the hand of fate into the well-oiled leather glove of the second-baseman with a solid thunk, the synchronized "ooooooooof" from the home crowd at that pop-up, and the alternating dance of the slouch-shouldered hitter making his way back to the dugout past the next batter, whose proud strut spoke to all that he didn't believe for a second that a pop-up was in his future. But the most beautiful thing to me was the grass. Our team played on real grass that caught the low light at the end of the day, that moved and folded and bounced under the players’ feet. I was especially proud about that fact.

I was so young that I didn't know the next week, the earth would be quiet again, that we would be right back to sums and sentence diagrams and snide remarks from one desk over while we all waited for Game 3 and 4 to be rescheduled after the rubble was cleared. I was too young to mind when the fever returned at the end of the month, eager for camaraderie, earthquakes and classroom divisions of all kinds forgotten once again in the sea of green we made, swelling with pride and rising up together in front of our TV screens. So young that I didn't realize we'd lose by as many games in the next World Series as we won in this one, a complete shut out to the Reds. And too young to know that I'd eventually outgrow my father's knee, but never my need to sneak away to catch a game with him. 

Baseball was on, that October of explosions and collapses was merely the long held breath of our continued summer, and all that mattered in that moment was the snap of the ball on the bat, and the collected breath of the Bay that we all held as our heroes rounded the bases.

 

image: Matt Mitchell


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