October 4, 2010

Greener Fields

Many fans quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti's The Green Fields Of The Mind as the days get shorter and most teams are headed home, but I've found in recent years that his essay has lost a lot of its power. This may be sacrilegious.

It is still a stupendous piece of work -- and no collection of writing about the sport can seriously call itself a "best of" without it. Baseball remains designed to break your heart and I'm still not that grown-up or up-to-date.

Despite the timelessness of Giamatti's thoughts, what we need from baseball and what it deigns to offer us -- strictly on its own unknowable schedule* and without one speck of concern for our emotional well-being -- the essay feels rooted in a pre-2004 Red Sox mentality. It's too damn fatalistic, right down to the mention of Dame Mutability, her guiding hand translating hope into memory, and the "rough justice" of losing out to the Yankees.

* Actually, I don't think baseball has a schedule at all. Things just happen.

But how could it not be? First of all, the game he describes in such detail was played on October 1, 1977. And second, Giamatti is writing as much about mortality as he is about baseball (maybe more). We will not always have "the memory of sunshine and high skies". We cannot resist the corrosion. There will be a final at-bat -- and we will be struck out.A wise man once said, "It used to be like that, and now it goes like this." And so it has, for me.

Nearly six years ago, an 11-day stretch of baseball changed me (and you) forever. I did not realize it for many months, but my brain had been re-wired -- jolted into a new, improved state of being -- and while I can remember those old feelings, I can no longer feel them.

So I'll share this, from an excellent interview with Roger Angell:
Baseball is meant to be watched all the way through. Sure, it's boring. There are boring innings and sometimes there turn out to be bad games, but you're not going to have a feeling for the good games unless you're willing to watch. ...

[E]ach have formal chapters. There are wonderful beginnings that don't stand up and boring beginnings that are great in the end. You just don't know. They're both, baseball and reading, for people who aren't afraid of being bored.

4 comments:

Amy said...

Great quote from Roger Angell, whose baseball writing helped me become a true baseball fan way, way back when.

johngoldfine said...

That's a nice Roger Angell quote, not that those are in short supply. It ties in nicely with your and Laura's posts this summer about the endless yammering, ads, in-park 'entertainment,'--all that crap laid on lest anyone be bored.

L-girl said...

The Giamatti piece is still the gold standard to me. It kills me every time.

I love Roger Angell but that thing about not being afraid to be bored is not for me. I guess where some see boredom, I see relaxation and the comfort of routine.

redsock said...

Yeah, the Angell quote is a bit dull! I loved the interview a lot because he talked about how he got started writing about baseball and about the act of writing.

The writing in Green Fields about the actual game that day is great. Some of the other stuff feels too heavy-handed. I think if I read that fresh today, I'd think the writer was trying way too hard to make some ultimate baseball/life statement.