Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Arizona Interlude"

Some people chase tornados.  I spring after spring.  To paraphrase Tom Joad – erasing all its meaning and poetry –

“Wherever there’s spring, I’ll be there.”

Here’s a sentence that does not have much to say for itself:  The thing about spring is, it feels like spring.  If you don’t know what that means, you don’t.  But if you do,

You know what I’m talking about.

The sunshiny skies.  The comforting breeze.  The planetarial rebirth.

I love the springtime.  (Because it‘s my favorite day of the year, I deliberately picked March the twenty-first as Dr. M’s and my wedding date.)

So I race to Arizona, where they get spring before we do.  I smell the air.  I reconnect with my friends Shelly and Vikki.  And I lavish in that universally recognized ritual –

Spring Training. 

Spring Training may in fact be the reason Arizona gets spring first.  Fifteen Major League teams have their practice facilities there.  California houses no Spring Training facilities.  And spring does not arrive there as early.  That’s interesting, isn’t it?  It’s like spring’s saying,  “There’s no baseball there.  What’s the rush?”

I am traveling alone this time – Dr. M having familial responsibilities.  (As do I, but she takes them more seriously.  I, by contrast, take off.)  

Not being a member of the rent-a-car-and-drive-through-unknown-places-at-night-and-actually-arrive-at-my-destination-rather-than-getting-irrertrievably-lost-and-having-my-vulture-revaged-remains-found-days-later-in-the-middle-of-nowhere contingent,

I take a cab to my hotel.

With no one to talk to and nothing to see (it’s dark out), my attention is drawn to the ticking taxi meter.  The “Starting Charge” is two-fifty.  Not bad, I think.

I no more than blink my eyes, look back at the meter, and suddenly, it’s seven-fifty.  I have no idea what happened.  But I am determined not to blink anymore.  In case the blinking is what did it.

By my unofficial count, the meter’s charges are advancing twenty-three cents every ten seconds.  The cab picks up speed, and it’s now twenty-three cents every four seconds, and later still, the meter jumps twenty-three cents every three seconds.  

At that point, I make myself stop watching the meter.  Fearing serious repercussions in cardiacal vicinity.

The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa boasts a breathtakingly expansive picture window showcasing – what else? – Wild Horse Pass.  I can easily stare out that window for hours, imagining stagecoaches bouncing over the rugged terrain, impressive herds of galloping stallions, and gatherings of Indigenous People, wondering how soon it will be before outsiders come pouring in, scheduling high-priced appointments for a “Deep Tissue” massage.

Our next day’s activities include a Little League encounter, in which Vik’n’Shel’s grandson Tyvon – a veteran ballplayer already at ten, and as capable and as confident as they come (primarily at shortstop, but later also as the pitcher – will participate.

The game is great fun, except for the first inning, which feels concerningly endless, due to both pitchers’ inability to put the ball over the plate.  In moments like these, you can actually feel yourself aging.

Watching the less experienced young players side-stepping hard-hit balls reminds me of one of the funniest short films about baseball – starring Buster Keaton – that I have ever seen.

Keaton’s character, who has apparently never seen a baseball game before, is installed at third base, traditionally known as the “Hot Corner” because the ball are smacked in their direction so scaldingly.

When the first “line drive” comes rocketing at Keaton, he – quite sensibly, he believes – dives out of the way to avoid it.  What then follows is a montage of “quick cuts”, in which a series of shots come cannonading his way, with Keaton acrobatically eluding them all.

Keaton’s common-sensical reactions remind us of the remarkable counter-intuitiveness of baseball.  His performance is hilarious because, when those torrid shots come rocketing in his direction, he reacts in an entirely reasonable manner, unless you’re a third baseman, in which case you are expected to do precisely the opposite.

Looking around, I catch sight of a seven-year old female dynamo with the name “Guthrie” sewn on the back of her baseball shirt, racing to retrieve balls that are sent out of the field of play, and throwing them back with a power, coordination and grace, far exceeding that of the majority of the ten-to-twelve year-old boys participating in the game. 

Pseudo-Scientific Theory:  It is inevitably the personalizing that requires our prejudices take a hike.
The Major League game offers its own uniquenesses.  The directly-behind-home-plate location, our great seats courtesy of Tyvon’s fortuitously connected Mom, Erika, puts us in the middle of a gaggle of baseball scouts from competing teams, trolling for valuable possible castoffs, and useful tips for future encounters. 

How do I know they’re scouts?  If you were casting “scouts” for a baseball movie, you would indisputably cast them.  And the moment the pitcher released the ball, its forward progress was immediately calibrated by a fusillade of “radar guns.”

The game is played at a languid pace, the established players – as my mentor Tyvon explains – readjusting, after an extended layoff, to “the speed of the game”, the less certain prospects trying to make their marks, many of them counter-productively floundering in the over-attempt.

I entertain at least a sneaking belief in the “Destiny of Names.”  By this (to some, dubious) criterion, when predicting success, your name itself is the determining difference.  Mickey Mantle? – a sure thing.  Don Lutz?  (A name announced at the ballgame) –considerably less likely.  A more probable destiny?

“Looking for a new ‘pickup’?   For the best deals in town – it’s ‘Don Lutz Motors.’”

But you never know.  “Pee Wee” Reese made it to the Hall of Fame.

An ideal visit – good times and wonderful friends.  And spring.  You know, in Hebrew…

“Hey, Ma!  We’re gettin’ Hebrew!

…in Hebrew, the word “roo-ach” means both wind and spirit.  For me, that pretty much tells the story – the spring “roo-ach” reinvigorates my spirit.  That’s basically all I’ve got, in terms of adding gravitas to today’s proceedings.

A tiny quibble – because it’s me, and you would expect at least one.

Late Saturday night during my “travel weekend”, California turned the clocks one hour ahead, but Arizona did not.  The result was that, when I flew to Arizona on Friday night, I lost an hour.  But when I returned home on Sunday afternoon, as would otherwise be the case, I did not get that deleted hour back.  

It appears, therefore, that I have been robbed of an hour of my life...


Memo To Myself:  Next year: 

Travel on a different weekend.

Those lost hours can start to add up.

1 comment:

Marty McFlyweight said...

Like you, I truly love spring training and escaping to the desert paradise...in fact, Paradise Valley. Unlike you, I loathe sitting down and writing about it. However, in the spring of '96 (I think), I was attending a Cubs-Padres game in the previous iteration of Ho Ho Kam. About midway thru the game, my lady friend asked me to fetch her a soft drink and of course, I did. The concessions were set up around the periphery outside the stadium. Standing in line, I turned around to discover that right behind me, still wearing his baseball pants and a very snug tee was Ricky Henderson. Knowing full well how much money he made (millions and millions), I foolishly offered to buy him a Coke. He politely declined, but neither did he offer to buy my drink. He was quickly surrounded by kids and he signed autographs while waiting his turn. In all my trips to AZ I've never seen another player come outside and meet the fans. Talk about a sculpted body, Ricky was the pocket Mr. Olympia of his era. The term 'ripped' may have been invented with him in mind. He was in his late 30s at the time but still, a picture of physical perfection. In a few days, I'll grab my carry-on and head toward spring. It's a renewal for all of us, including the kid that still thinks he can play this game as well as any of these guys!

Recently, I saw the movie 'About Time,' which is about time-travel (which co-starred Rachel McAdams, so I rented it). Incidentally, she is, along with you, one of Canada's finest exports. The point of this segment of my ramble is this: go to a very dark place, such as a closet, stand erectly (posture-ly speaking, squeeze your fist and picture where you want to be. The rule is you can only go backwards - which never explained in the movie how they got back to the present so easily, but hey, it's a movie. I hope that helps you with the 1-hour dilemma. (Or buy a DeLorean cuz you already know Dr. Brown.)