by Nathan Grutchfield
It being summertime, it is also the time of year when baseball is at its peak, not just at a professional level but at all ages and leagues in northern states like Vermont, with warmer climate states, in contrast, perhaps experiencing less of the season-reliant aspect of summer baseball, since the sport is able to be played year-round. Even a person who has no interest in playing or watching the game, one would be hard-pressed to avoid a heavy awareness of the happenings in the baseball world.
With that being said, there are certainly plenty of happenings. At the professional level, fans of the Chicago Cubs, especially longtime supporters, are ecstatic at the moment since their team seems the favorite to progress to their first World Series appearance since 1945, and maybe even a World Series win that has eluded them since 1908. Fans in New England also have reason to celebrate, as the outfield in Fenway is patrolled by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, stars who lead a rambunctiously good offense along with shortstop Xander Bogaerts and of course the designated hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who will retire at the end of the season but at least is getting a great last hurrah, so far.
Up in Vermont, where there is no professional ballclub, there is still plenty of baseball going on this summer. NECBL has two teams in Vermont in the (Vermont) Mountaineers, in Montpelier, and the Upper Valley Nighthawks, in White River Junction.
Furthermore, High School Legion ball has begun, with plenty of kids enjoying a chance to extend their school seasons to the summer-alternative, highly competitive league.
On a personal note, I feel surrounded by the American pastime, that holds a classic tradition of being an institution all across the sunny valleys of California, the flat, windy plains of the Midwest, and the sticky summers and wicked winters of New England. It is summertime, indeed, when many across the country, with a crackling radio with the familiar voice of some announcer, or a television in a cool basement showing big leaguers live their lifelong dreams, settle into the evening routine after a long, hard day’s work. I know how those people feel, because I’ve been there.
Long story short, baseball has for the last century been a companion to young and old in the days of summer, a tradition that continues to this day. There are some who would make the intimidating argument that baseball is following a dying trend as the nation’s passion, however, the reason that such a person could make and believe this ridiculous assumption manifests itself, more often than not, in the sad situation that such a person has never him- or herself experienced the reasons why baseball holds an irreplaceable, timeless place in many an American’s heart.
A great amount of people across the nation, and indeed outside of it, as baseball is more of a global passion today than ever before, will be in love with the sport for the next few months, each with their own reasons, their own unique relationship to it, having a long lifetime beside it or a newly discovered enjoyment of it, and will somehow use the game to escape their troubles for a pleasant dream, even if their favorite team is not favored by the scoreboard or standings.
Fortunately, with those Red Sox, both elements are attaching themselves beautifully at the moment. After a shaky June, there is much to be happy about for supporters like myself.
Putting up lopsided scorelines and piling up wins against other great teams like the San Francisco Giants is one thing. But sometimes results in the win column do not speak nearly enough. The chants of “Pa-pi, Pa-pi” before the slugger heroically hits a ball, undoubtedly destined for the seats within a split second, or the split second when a runner from third attempting to score on a wild pitch is deemed safe for a hard-earned, ugly, dirt-stained run, bringing many to yelp in adrenaline and jubilation. But mostly the looks of joy on the faces of the young Boston players like Betts and Bradley, a new golden generation, after catches, after hits, after wins, appeals to something in a viewer that looks to baseball as an expression of some of life’s greatest aspects: the rewarding of non-religious faith, the sacrifice for a greater good, and the enjoyment of humor and living a lifelong dream to its fullest for the very first time, as many young heroes for the Red Sox now do.
That is not to say the only emotions a viewer draws from watching baseball are positive. The pitcher making his first major league pitching performance in front of his own family in the stands, his looks of anxiety closely followed by the camera, between non-stop hits by proven players with no mercy, including a grand slam before the youngster has even recorded an out, and the varying expressions among his family members throughout the whole inning, from the nail-biting but empathetic sister to the hard-to-please, scowling grandfather, and one can’t help but know the anxiety, disappointment and fear present in all their minds through it all. Or the bitterness of holding a lead, only to let it all slip away, as many teams and fans know all too well.
As the summer comes to a close, it is a bittersweet time for major league baseball, and compared to the hope that is present at the beginning of summer for all teams, expecting great seasons, by the end of August only some can maintain those expectations and be realistic.
If baseball fans are fortunate, they can experience their favorite team’s games at the end of summer and believe they have great importance for the upcoming fall postseason. In that case, all the sadness of summer’s end is at least eased by that distraction, the eyes of a viewer directed towards the television on October nights and the mind fully engulfed in the action.
However, other teams and their fans are subjected to hopelessness come the end of the summer, or at least for the present season. And in that case, games do not have any implications for a run at a glorious World Series victory.
But it is a good thing that the seasons don’t end as soon as a team effectively throws in the towel. Baseball still is the same sport, and means all the same things for its followers, should a team be flirting with the pennant, or flirting with the cellar, or at least it should. Only one team can win the World Series, but the number of people who gain something from a season that they can remember for their whole lives is unlimited.