The Off Season & Baseball Season, and today is the Solstice. On that harrowed field nestled in Sulfir Canyon, adjacent to the freeways, warehouses, and skyscrapers of LA’s urban core, America’s pastime will commence again as the Boys in Blue, the Bums, The Briedgrooms, the Los Angeles Dodgers will take the field at Chavez Ravine to face their storied rivals the San Francisco Giants.
When the ceremonial first pitch is thrown, this year by Dodger legend Fernando Venezuela, an event with all the astronomical and astrological power of the Solstice, innumerable fans across our country, and the globe, will experience the zenith of their hopes for the season. All 30 teams on equal footing. All records 0-0. All batting averages .000 and ERAs 0.0, and our lives will again be filled with the promise of peanuts and Cracker Jack, walk-off bombs and crushing called third strikes. Favorite players will fall to injury while names unknown rise to stardom, and maybe fall back to earth. Win or lose there are 162 games on the schedule and 162 games worth of lengthening days and warm nights to enjoy before the seasons change again.
My Off Season began with the whimper of the 2010 team being unable to finish the season with a winning, or even a .500, record and it spiraled down through loss, death, and a dark and cold winter that shook me to my core. The most difficult element of coping with the death of my mother and my mother-in-law has been the slow realization that life goes on. It moves forward for everyone around you first, while you are still mired in the new reality foisted upon you. Then life sweeps you along and your only option is the white-water or to kick hard for the shore. I’ve spent a lot of time swimming over the past months. Towards what, I never seem to know, but I’m fighting the rapids and keeping my head above water. And today the struggle gets a little easier as even a losing season or a full-blown implosion of the team cannot eclipse the joy and hope of the top of the first inning when all the boxes on the scorecard are empty.
That is perhaps Baseball’s most beautiful trait: there are so many fresh starts in the sport. The start of the season of course, but also always another no balls no strikes at bat; always the chance of a 9th inning comeback; or the chance to “get them tomorrow.” It is this hope and opportunity that makes me love the game so much, and life’s ups-and-downs seem so much more manageable against the backdrop of April’s young season or the dog-days of July and August, or a tight pennant race in September. The successful teams are the ones that can look past the hindrance of injuries, the despair of a slump, or the despondency of a protracted losing streak and see that hope and opportunity and find ways to succeed. They say that baseball is a game of adjustments; hitters have to make minute course corrections at the plate over the 162 games to be productive. Pitchers need to make careful tweaks to their mechanics to keep their pitches sharp. Managers influence the game with small changes to the line-up or the rotation. Any one of these could be enough to turn an at-bat or a game or a season around.
Baseball’s galaxy of statistics are the basis for many of these adjustments. Untold numbers of statisticians churn though ever iota of data to quantify every aspect of the game. the beauty of the numbers is just below the surface of the game and it’s something I am fascinated by. I often wish that everyday life had such a multitude of metrics to measure our progress. Something to base personal course-corrections on and measure week-to-week accomplishments and progress by. Instead I struggle against the external judgments and even harsher self-opinions that face every decision. After a lingering off season and the brief run-op of Sprint Training I am ready for the fresh start. Ready to move past the winter’s doldrums and eager to hear the crack of the bat and watch a ball sail, a tiny while orb against LA’s azure sky, deep into rabble seated in the pavilions.
Today, when Vin Scully speaks the words “It’s time for Dodger baseball,” I will probably shed a tear. A tear for the losses and pain since the last time he spoke those words to the innumerable fans. A tear for the part of myself that was lost and forever changed. A tear of realization that now it will always ring differently to me. But also a tear of joy and of excitement for what the imminent future will bring. Win or lose it is time to take the field, wait for the pitch, and put a good swing on the ball.
The seasons are changing in Los Angeles, and Baseball brings me and hope and a new outlook. Play Ball!