In case you hadn't noticed, October arrives with flash and drama.
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More than the dance of fallen leaves and the must-filled autumn air, it?s the sports section in the newspaper that announces October. I haven?t watched more than an inning or two of baseball in about a year, and yet here I am, checking the television schedule, tuning in at the last minute.
Ours was a swimming family, and then later other things: field hockey, basketball, football, tennis. When my brother and I played after school as kids, the gloves and baseball were down on the list of our favorites. We preferred replaying impossible football catches, pretending the edge of the street was out-of-bounds.
Except in October, when our alliances readily switched, when we knew the Big Red Machine--the Cincinnati Reds?needed us. There was the time when we walked our bikes as fast as legally possible until we were off school grounds, then we sprinted three blocks home, grabbed our gloves and the transistor radio and headed to the back yard.
These were the early seventies, before cable television and the super station beamed baseball across the globe. Not all of the games were televised and on this particular day the networks were showing soap operas instead of the afternoon playoff game.
Leaning into the chipped picnic table, the reception waving in and out, I felt a strange surge backward in time, to the days of my parents sitting around the radio listening to the president give a speech or to a baseball game. We called those the olden days and yet here we were hushing our cheers, visualizing the hit, the catch, the run, the throw.
That same week, we begged to stay up late, to watch the jaw-clenching grit of Pete Rose as he dove into his signature slide. We imitated flapping Joe Morgan on the shag rug in our den. Johnny Bench was my brother?s favorite--stocky, strong, steady?they were a lot alike, even though my brother was only eight.
Years later, I was in Atlanta when yet another October kept me up past midnight, night after night, giving me what was locally called?the Braves Fatigue Syndrome. Co-workers shuffled in the next day, heavy-eyed and hung over from the alternating agony and adrenaline of Schmoltzie and Gavin and the maestro himself, Maddux.
Even to a casual fan, to the fairest of fair weather spectators like myself, there remains something dreamy about that silly old game. Maybe it?s the way grown men let their little boy natures come out for the world to see. Maybe it?s that the game itself is comparatively simple?requires a ball, a bat and a glove?then anyone can play. Maybe it?s just that baseball hasn?t changed a whole lot in the century or so since Americans have been hooting and hollering and snacking on peanuts and beer. Boys and their dads gravitate toward the dream of it, toward being the one whose chance it is, in the bottom of the ninth to hit in the winning run, or conversely, to strike out the last threat and save the day. Even the words used in baseball reveal its timeless drama.
You win, lose or save the game. You sacrifice. You steal. You bunt. You balk.
So here I am again, a good thirty years after rooting for Johnny Bench and company, jumping into the crowd in the last innings of the season. It is, after all, October?Go Cubbies.
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