The Last Summer of Baseball

OBPYWYpjThere’s something about baseball that suspends time. Whole lifetimes seem to freeze between pitches. And I’m not talking about boredom. Maybe there’s a warm summer rain falling, or you’re being lulled into the cosmic wonder of baseball from the radio while sitting on a front porch. It’s a very reflective, meditative sport. When I look back at playing baseball, those times idling in the outfield or eating  a bag of sunflower seeds from the dugout, staring at slow moving clouds, I realize how big it was to my development. Sitting out there gave me time to think.

This season is the last year the Rock Cats are playing baseball in New Britain. Minor league baseball has been here for about 40 years, dating back to the New Britain Red Sox, where the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Moe Vaughn, David Ortiz, and Torii Hunter have haunted our fields. After 20 years as the Rock Cats, the organization, lured by the city of Hartford with a brand new stadium, is moving just 10 miles away. The hope is to revive the economically dormant city of Hartford as well as rebirth the Double AA organization. But it’s made a lot of people here bitter in New Britain, another city with little to cling to in the way of local attractions. Sports is the one thing that brings people together. The city is a divisive one, where partisan politics are strong, and where the battle lines for Yankee/Red Sox allegiances are drawn. But the Rock Cats have been a common thing to revere. New Britain stadium isn’t flashy. It’s your run-of-the mill minor league field that could be found in many flyover towns in America. The outfield wall is plastered with local business signs. It’s got irrigation problems. But it’s our stadium. As a teen, when all I cared about was baseball, the place was my sanctuary. I used to walk to games. I’d stalk out a lot of players for their autographs as they got onto their buses. Once I got Alfonso Soriano’s autograph when he was coming up for the Yankees, and negotiated a trade of it for a signed Cal Ripken Jr. baseball, my favorite athlete of all time. I used to try to talk to players while they were in the on deck circle, and a broken bat given to me by my friend, who worked as a ball boy, still rests up against my bedroom wall. Another time my friend and I almost got thrown out because of some really bad heckling. It was the first time I saw Bob Dylan there, playing a show from center field, on a rainy evening in August 2006.

There is a lot riding on the Yard Goats. The new field is called Dunkin’ Donuts Park, a situation where I am unsure if the company is sponsoring the team or the team is sponsoring the company. I probably won’t go to a Rock Cats game this year before the season ends, which is fine. I want to remember the place in a certain way. Simple, but extraordinary. Bye, bye baseball.

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