The buds of flowering trees are forcing and the sticky paint of nature coats everything in a yellowish hue. We’ve been saving up our daylight for months and are free now to use the reserves for evenings on the porch and spring maintenance projects around the house.
After gray winter skies, I always welcome the renewal and rebirth of spring. When I was little, it meant clanging ladders prepping for a new paint job on the house, longer blades of bright green St. Augustine grass, and the sound of Harry Caray’s distinct intonation yelling, “It could be, it might be, it is! A Home Run!”
Back then, there was no Netflix or endless channel surfing. There was a turn-knob box of a television set with limited and predictable choices. For some reason, WGN-TV in Chicago reached all the way down to a small town in the south and felt almost exotic. I was no stranger to big cities like Houston or Dallas, but Chicago, Illinois might as well be on Mars.
But there they were, the Chicago Cubs of Wrigley Field, teaching a little girl in a little town to love the sound and spirit of America’s national pastime. To this day, “Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd, buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,” runs a chill down my arms and puts forty years of memories square in my throat.
I don’t know what it is about the sounds and imagery of one thing that illicit such emotional depth and nostalgia of another, but many of the best of my childhood memories are tied to sports. The roar of a sports crowd and I’m a kid again with people I loved the most.
Maybe everyone believes their childhood years were the best of times, but in hindsight, the eighties seem to be particularly special. I think it mostly had to do with it being the last decade of fewer choices and more time. Things we jam into the slivers of our free time now were of paramount importance then.
You could turn on the Chicago Cubs, then go to the grocery store, the Post Office, and a visitation at the funeral home, and still get back for the seventh-inning stretch. There’s no rushing baseball. And if there’s anything our world needs now, it’s to not be rushed at something. Anything, for crying out loud. Back then, there wasn’t really anything to rush toward. But now the extra fancy technology meant to make our lives better demands more of what we have less to give – our time.
Perhaps it was due to growing up in a smaller town in a less populated state, but everyone cheered for the same high school and college team. There were no professional sports teams in our state, so the majority of people were united in loyalty to the same teams. With globally connected communication and more transient lives, it seems our team devotions now are as different as our personalities. It does add variety to the conversation at parties, but there is something special about the common thread of cheering for the same team.
It’s been different raising my kids in the Pensacola area. There are a dozen different high schools and a variety of collegiate logos scattered around the city come football tailgate season. National team support has no doubt been impacted by the influx of military folks and newcomers seeking sunshine and sand. But we all, no matter our high school, college or national team, have the Blue Wahoos.
On April 7, we’ll have them again, in one of the prettiest locations in all of baseball. That day is special to me. It’s my little boy’s golden birthday. He’ll be 7 on the 7th and we’ll be celebrating at the Blue Wahoos Opening Night against the Montgomery Biscuits.
I already know it will be magic. Pensacolians and visitors alike, united in the colors of our home team, will share something without division or controversy. Together, we’ll stand in line for popcorn and hot dogs, before shuffling to our seats. We will laugh and cheer and sometimes boo. We’ll make small talk with strangers that for a time will feel like friends. And forty years from now, when that little boy is the age I am now, an organ will play a familiar sound and he will be seven again, and he will root, root, root for his home team and if they don’t win, it’ll be a shame.
And he may not be able to put it into words, as the heart can sometimes be without them, but the smell of the concessions and the mix of that distinctive sound will link his past to the present, and he will deeply understand the importance of baseball.