Saturday, March 5, 2011
I never did get totally into the swing of things last year as far as The Game was concerned. Real life stress and distractions loomed over my head with enough weight to keep me from getting too comfortable or carried away with the season. I did not put in the requisite time at Bill James Online 1, the Fordham Baldies 2 never did recover from their early season slump, plus my team found new ways to piss me off. It's all forgotten now, and watching live from my living room in NY, was as engrossing as ever. I had to split to run some errands and when I got back at the tail end of the outing, the field was covered with guys not named Manny wearing 99 on their backs'. These kids, totally unfamiliar even to me even as a guy who tends to dip into minor league blogs and scouting reports of the young'ns, were going at it full force.
Young kids on the cusp of living out their dreams who will, in all likelihood, end up back at home all too soon and will spend the rest of their lives talking about how close they came. I'm envious. One of the cable networks was showing Sugar this winter, which I think tells that story as well as it's been told on film. The eponymous star is scouted as a teen in the Dominican where he signs and is brought up through the ranks of a big league team. This is the dream but the story is anything but glorious. Pulled away from his family and brought to play in small town Iowa, Sugar is boarded with a Bible Belt American family whose allegiances are with God, America, and their local team. And so he struggles with language and culture, attempts to find comfort with the locals who, despite sharing a love for the sport, are absolute aliens to him. The intense smiles and Jesus is looming in the back of my mind chit chat of the youth group teens would bewilder even those of us who get the subtleties of the language so it's no surprise that the character misreads some of this as romantic interest.
This is the setting in which the hero is faced with honing his skills, growing from kid player into pro. The massive uphill on-field battle actually becomes the most familiar thing around. And in this tale, Sugar cracks. He had too much working against him to perfect his curve and to adjust to life on the road away from family. After dropping out of the league he ends up in New York, working in a wood shop as he had back home, and playing in a pick-up league in the park. His teammates have similar stories to his.
Sarah and I often spend summertime weekends exploring one park or another and gravitate towards ballgames when we pass them. Men on the diamond, decked out in uniform, playing as if their salaries were on the line while their families and passers-by like us watch on. Perhaps many are like Sugar who had a shot once and keep going still, even after life has moved on. Or like number 94, who hit a two run homer in my team's loss last week and has spent most of the last ten years in Mexico trying work his way into the radar of a big league team. He was almost the hero in spring training game number 1 and I'm rooting for him to make a mark over the next few weeks but time has a way of running out as players close in on 30. The sparse spring training crowds fade into 50 of us crowded around the fence in Inwood Hill Park as the men on field carry on exactly as they always have.
1 Subscription required, kids, but worth every cent of the 300 cents/month fee. I believe there was a note recently that they were planning to open up some of the content from behind the firewall to the public, which'd be swell, but the fee is a mere pittance so subscribe away.
2 These Baldies, of course, being managed by me via an app and acted out by millionaires on the field, not being managed by Terror and acted out in front of a recruiting office. If I could find a decent Woodlawn related gang name I'd consider changing for this year, otherwise two stops on the train doesn't make me too much an impostor.