Monday, February 23, 2015

"The Anointed Ones"

This is a tricky one.  An imagined feeling, possibly unreal.  Wait, if it’s imagined…
I don’t know.  It’s kinda hard to explain.  (So give me credit if I do.)  (Or appropriate “part marks” if I come close.) 

Itching for the impending arrival of the upcoming baseball season, I switch on the MLB (Major League Baseball) Channel for an antsily needed preemptive “fix.” 

And there they are.  Assembled on natural grass, blue skies and Arizona (or is it Florida) sunshine brightly canopying the reunion.  It’s been three-and-a-half months since the season ended with the World Series.  And like “perennials” in the garden, the Game of Spring and Summer (and, sadly, fall and sometimes early winter) is finally coming back. 

I see a team gathered casually in the outfield.  It is the first day of Spring Training, pitchers and catchers arriving some days earlier, and now it’s the entire squad.  They are not yet practicing.  They are simply hanging out, informally chewing the fat.  

I detect a familiar vibration from these ballplayers, decked out in their baggy shorts and team-logoed t-shirts.  I am not immediately aware of which one it is, but it really doesn’t matter.  What I pick up is fundamentally generic, an identifiable sensation that says:


It is a clichetical truism that all arriving Spring Training baseball teams are hopeful.  None of them has yet lost a game, let alone fallen ignominiously out of contention.  On the first day of Spring Training, every team – and the players representing them – is in first place.  You can seismically experience the optimism.

But there is something more in the air on than just that.

There is an even more important spirit at play, infusing the inner workings of every Spring Training invitee.  I can sense it in the players I am looking at – my observations inspiring the actual post you are currently reading.  I apprehend it in the players’ unbounded energy, the spirited sparkle in their eyes, their relaxed body language, their comfortable movements down on the field.

They would never say it out loud, fearing a collective razzing for articulating the sentimentally obvious, or for attracting the malevolent attentions of the much feared “Baseball Dieties.” 

But you can tell they are feeling it.  Barred from verbal articulation, in the heart of every ballplayer lies the gratitudinous sensation:     

Look where we are!”

Where are they?  They are exactly where they want to be.  Where they have always dreamed of being.  Not through accident, connection or fortuitous happenstance.  They have worked tirelessly for it from their youthful beginnings, practicing endlessly, honing their abilities.  They have competed ferociously at every level.  They have overcome astronomical odds. 

And they made it. 

There they are, relishing the playful banter, the easy laughter, luxuriating in the exclusivity and acceptance of the recognizably “Elect.” 

Think about it.  Out of three hundred-plus million people, they have been selected to be the seven-hundred-and-fifty “Elites” participating in American baseball’s Major Leagues.

What a rush!

I take note of this sensation, because it’s cool.  But more importantly because they remind me of myself.  Myself in my heyday, when, filled with doubt and determination, I enjoyed the personal miracle of elevation to the Major Leagues of big-time entertainment.

I can recall the “Spring Training” of the production season, coming together after “hiatus”, happy to be reunited, of course, but more importantly than that, like those ballplayers, reveling in the unbelievable opportunity – and, if pressed to total honesty, the ineffable privilege – of working at the loftiest level of our craft.

As a network TV writer, I identified with those athletes, believing we were equals, toiling at the top of our respective enterprises.   Once I embarrassingly overstepped.  Enjoying the (at least contractual) pinnacle of my success and doing research for a baseball project, I got to hang out for a period of time with the Dodgers.  Here was the meeting of two exalted franchises – the Los Angeles Dodgers and (I hubristically imagined) myself.  Chewing the fat during batting practice.

The upcoming playoffs were looming and the Dodgers had a more than even chance of facing my hometown Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.  In the stream of what I mistakenly took for collegial banter, I spontaneously chimed in, warning them to pack warm clothing on their impending road trip to Toronto.

Suddenly the conversation stopped dead in its tracks.  Maybe it was because I was “jumping the gun”, queering the “Juju” by mentioning a post-season encounter that had yet to be determined (and, as it turned out, never took place, the Dodgers and the Blue Jays falling in earlier series of the playoffs.  Hm, could that possibly have been my fault?)

Equally likely, however, and arguably more so, my sudden ostracism was sending me a message, that message being:

“You may be something in show business, but at the moment, you’re on our turf, and when we want to hear from you, we’ll ask you.”     

Well, they certainly told me.  We were ostensibly equals.  But we were certainly not – and we never would be – the same.

Despite certain awkward, albeit educational, comeuppances, however, it remains an indescribable pleasure realizing I had gained entry into “The Club” and I am grateful to that Spring Training assemblage for returning me to that exhilarating era when I was living on helium and walking on air.

Tomorrow, because I am nothing if not even-handed, plus I am congenitally incapable of leaving better off alone…

The offsetting flipside of this delirious experience.
I messed up.  I am doing the flip side of this delirious experience.  Just not tomorrow.  But soon.

1 comment:

Jimmy John said...

In the interim...trying to recall when the Jays and Dodgers might have been in the post-season at the same time. Without looking it up. I don't think Toronto has been to the post-season since their WS win over Philly, about '92? I'm guessing mid-80s? And I'm just filling time till you give us part 2.

Another interesting bit of trivia from the Marvin Miller autobiography, "A Whole Different Ball Game": Between 1946 and 1966, the minimum contract for a major league player increased from $5,000. per year to $6,000. The average contract for all major leaguers was $19K.