ZURICH, Switzerland—Because our team—the Embrach Mustangs of the Swiss National Baseball League—has a weekend off from games, my teammates and I decide to go to Germany to see Italy play England in the European Baseball Cup. Here in Stuttgart, on a hillside field, the Azzurri are whupping the Brits.
Looking at the English side it seems obvious. They have sloppy one-button jerseys, the type that Sunday softball leagues get for their players when the pizzeria withdraws its sponsorship. And though the Italians may be winless in twentieth century armed conflict, they’ve learned how to play this baseball game. Maybe it’s the appearance as hitting coach of the indomitable Mike Piazza, a real pro brought over from my home in New York City, where he was everyone’s childhood hero.
After the game, after I get Piazza’s autograph (Me: Mr. Piazza can you sign my program, I’m a big Mets fan! Mike: Sweet), we’re getting ready to head back to Switzerland, and there’s another reason other than the fact that I’ve run out of Euros that I’m feeling regretful.
Baseball is a game of regret. No one knows this more than the European baseball player.
Everyone’s got a story, me most of all, to explain how they ended up not in the pros or on their national team but in this halfway-league blinking brightly on the other side of the Atlantic, green mountain paradise to be sure but professional baseball purgatory.
Everyone’s got something a little wrong with them—a hitch in the swing, a false step on the basepaths—to limit a baseball career. They say that if you’re good baseball finds you anywhere, but if you’re only pretty good, the sport is merciless—and there are a thousand purgatories like this one on green-filled paradises the world over.
Watching the national teams brings it all out, because while the Italians are very good, I don’t have to lie to myself too much to pretend that if things had been different, I could have been a backup infielder for the English. It’s lying, and it’s probably not true, but these are the lies we tell ourselves over here while we play sort-of-professional baseball, trying to decide if we’re fulfilling little lifelong dreams that we had when we were whiffle-ball children.
And it’s difficult because the adult world is pulling so hard. My American teammate confesses that he doesn’t even love baseball like he used to. For God’s sake, baseball got us to Europe, how much more do we want? I was in Paris last week. I’m living in a room where I wake up to the find-me bells of sheep. I spend my days on the lake in Zurich, swimming, watching the way the water goes so far into the mountains that the earth turns underneath. At night they light up the bridges and people dance samba over the Limmat.
But even still the most exciting thing comes, that night at a beer festival in Wil, with other Swiss kids our age. They’re friends of a teammate, so they know all about baseball. They know that we play for real teams. We tell them to come to our games, like major leaguers signing baseballs with their phone numbers for the pretty girls—and in my Under Armor sweatshirt and these couple of people around us I feel pro. Right now, in a town square on top of cobblestones hundreds of years old, far from baseball field lights or morning practice, I pretend that I hit the way Mike Piazza does. That I’m 6-3 and 220, the new hot-shot kid called up to the bigs. It’s easy here where no one’s checking. It’s why we hide ourselves so far away. Here, baseball is a dream, a little-kid thing getting harder and harder to let go.
Mark J. Chiusano ’12, a Crimson magazine associate editor, is an English concentrator in Winthrop House.