Like the dried-up dead roaches that gather under my desk this time of year, October crackles under my sock feet. October chews up and spits out my summer and says, "You better git now, and don’t you come back!"
I don’t like how October treats baseball.
In the summer, baseball times itself to the setting sun. Get home from work, eat dinner, watch baseball. Unless—even better—it’s Sunday afternoon. Do nothing, eat lunch, watch baseball. Every day is a simple beauty.
Then comes October: football season and playoff time, an awkward coexistence. October throws baseball under the rug for days-long stretches, and then FOX throws baseball at your face. Jeanne Zelasko, Kevin Kennedy, and Ken Rosenthal are the network’s on-air talents. Tim McCarver still broadcasts games. And they wonder why ratings are down!
October baseball is noisy, and mean, and makes me nervous. There is a time and a place for such things. And that’s October, the month that precedes November elections and "November Rain." That’s no accident.
Earlier this year, for the eighth or so time in my life, I spent a week of spring training in Florida, where I saw my favorite team: the Atlanta Braves. At spring training, everyone’s in shades, and everyone’s all smiles. And then there are the smells. You won’t catch a whiff of cocoa butter or grapeseed oil here: the most pervasive scent at the ballpark, among a whole menu of them—grilling dogs, gasoline, freshly cut grass—is the one that wafts from industrial-size helpings of Coppertone sunblock, not the fancy stuff. What is this, the beach? No, it’s baseball.
You’ll feel an inexplicable brand of joy, watching baseball in the sun while Harvard digs out from under snow.
By the time summer rolled around, my brother Jamie and I embarked on a dream: five cities, five games, five days. We took our mid-June road trip through the Rust Belt. Apparently, Midwesterners like their major league baseball five hours apart. It’s an amazing convenience.
Jamie and I started in St. Louis (the new Busch Stadium) and finished in Cincinnati (the Great American Ballpark). In between, we visited Chicago (Wrigley), Detroit (Comerica), and Pittsburgh (PNC). On our way, we enjoyed the fruits of the local industry: Bud Light in Beer Town, Old Style in Chi-Town, Yuengling in coal country—all, naturally, in ballpark bleachers. We didn’t skip the gigantic Cheese Coneys in Cincinnati, but maybe we should have.
Baseball’s timelessness isn’t something I talk about a lot, unless I’m talking "Field of Dreams," my favorite movie, which could cook up enough nostalgia to feed a small country for days. If you want to see a grown man cry, all you need is the aforementioned title and 107 minutes of your time—23, if you start at James Earl Jones’ spine-tingling speech.
"The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces," Jones’ character tells Ray, convincing him to keep his field (a speech so stirring that Annie’s brother blows a gasket).
Many fans under 40—the defensive ones, like me—tend to downplay baseball’s historical gravity. History is nice, and great, and important, but it doesn’t sell video games. I wish it did. I’d await EA Sports’ Scully ’07—after the ancient Dodgers broadcaster, Vin—just as eagerly as I do Madden ’07. Problem is, none of the other kids would play with me.
But at Wrigley Field, when I walk up the tunnel, a veritable concrete time warp, and take my seat among hundreds—thousands—of chattering college-age kids, I’m reminded of America’s honest, ageless love affair with the game.
"They’ll arrive," says Jones in "Field of Dreams," "as innocent as children, longing for the past."
Which only reminds me of how things break down in October, that most solemn of months. The balky shoulders of Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen sag under the weight of October; so do Nomar’s hands, A-Rod’s mojo (what’s left of it, anyway), and the bags under my eyes. Eight o’clock start times, plus midterms!
In October, you get last Friday’s scenario in Detroit: Major League Baseball reschedules the game under the afternoon sun because of the threat of snow. You get bitter Red Sox fans who, despite their once-in-a-lifetime triumph of two seasons past, wouldn’t seem to appreciate it much, now, would they. You get Mets fans in my Kirkland House suite—two of them, in fact—staring at a potential World Series win on the 20th anniversary of Mookie, Doc, and Darryl. Sick bastards.
As for me, I’ll watch a few of the games on television. I’ll watch them at bars with Dave and Caleb, my Mets fan friends, if they’re not at Shea Stadium for the Series. I may even appreciate what’s happening. But don’t expect me to enjoy it.
Some would say it’s better to have lost in October than to have never experienced October at all.
I’m a Braves fan, and both suck equally.
Did I mention that I hate October?
—Alex McPhillips ’07 is a history concentrator in Kirkland House. His favorite player, John Smoltz, is perfecting his golf game right now.