An American Spring, Past And Present

To me, March always signifies the end of my wintertime hibernation.  It ushers in the coming of my favorite time of year, summer.  But spring itself is the necessary springboard to my personal bliss.  Each day I scour the trees and bushes for buds, anxiously awaiting them to burst open and bring the vivid colors that pave the way for the luscious greens of summer.  I welcome the warm weather birds back and I await the new families of geese that I get to watch paddle their way in perfect single file past my view on the river behind the house.  I love the longer hours of daylight and how the sun seems to grow warmer with each day’s passing.  It’s the annual rebirth of one’s senses and a fresh, new, long overdue optimism.

For some, the rites of spring don’t begin until the big bus leaves, headed southward to Lakeland, Fort Myers, Sarasota, Bradenton, Glendale or Tempe.  Those buses are packed with their own beginning of spring in the form of uniforms, equipment, promises, expectations and their own form of annual optimism.

For many, the coming of spring can’t occur until both of these events take place, as if there is some sort of order and reasoning that makes one impossible without the other.  A natural coupling that says the universe is aligned in its natural harmony.  There is just something about hearing the phrase “pitchers and catchers have reported”.  This is something that is completely American.  You can’t have a Fall Classic until the boys of summer have had their due.  The boys of summer can’t entertain us during those dog days of summer until they’ve completed their springtime rituals.  It’s a metamorphosis as natural as a caterpillar springing from its chrysalis to float through those warm summer afternoons as a butterfly.

If you read my blog regularly you’ve probably noticed that I refer to my past a lot.  It’s strange because I remember my younger years like they were yesterday although I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night.  Maybe it’s because I had a great childhood with no really serious traumatic events to scar me.  Maybe it’s because I made an effort every day to have as much fun as I could and yes, I succeeded more often than not.  I don’t know, but to this day I worship the coming of spring and in turn that prompts me to think of the corner of Michigan and Trumbull (or simply “The Corner” as it has come to be known) in Corktown where so much history was made by so many players that came through the big leagues for so many seasons.  Of course, the old ball yard that stood at The Corner for 87 years is gone now, but it’s like the passing of a loved one where memories strengthen and become more cherished over time.

 I probably have the same type of childhood memories as most kids who grew up loving baseball.  I can remember hot summer nights sitting at my desk in my bedroom keeping score of Tiger games while Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey provided color commentary and play by play on WJR radio.  I distinctly remember going to games at Tiger Stadium with my dad.  I remember that special feeling that hit me each time I walked through the concourse and saw that outfield grass for what seemed like the first time, every time.  Seeing that emerald oasis rise up in the middle of the concrete jungle of Detroit was an amazing thing to me.

  Over the years I saw some great Tigers play on that field, like Al Kaline, Alan Trammell, Norm Cash, Gates Brown, Jack Morris, Jim Northrup, Mickey Lolich, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, and Cecil Fielder.  I remember seeing Vida Blue pitch for the A’s, Reggie Jackson knocking the ball over the right field fence, Rod Carew turning double plays and Brooks Robinson starting them.  I used to fear the Red Sox when they came to town because Carl Yastrzemski always played well against the Tigers.  I remember the great second chance story of Ron LeFlore and the phenom that was Mark Fidrych.  I also painfully remember the tearing down of that grand old stadium at The Corner and the passing of one of baseball’s greatest, Ernie Harwell.

Those were great times and great memories.  Sadly, I don’t live in the Detroit area anymore.  The Tigers play at Comerica Park on Woodward Avenue now and many new memories are still to be made.  I still catch the Tigers on TV when I can and their recent resurgence has me so excited for them, their fans and my home town.  During their worst years recently I always insisted that it’s “cool to be a Tigers fan”.  I still feel that way.  But I think we all know that life, like a good pitcher, will catch you off guard by throwing you a curveball when you’re looking for a fastball.

Now I live in the Boston area and I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to go to historic Fenway Park and see a baseball game.  I’m still not a huge Red Sox fan, but I AM a baseball fan, and it’s like I have gotten a second chance, so far from my home, to make new memories and experience the same great game in a great old park that just oozes with legend, myth and lore.  Ironically Fenway Park was built the same year Tiger Stadium was. 

If you’re a baseball fan, come to Fenway Park and take a stroll down Yawkey Way, buy a sausage from The Sausage King and wander into the Park and take a look around.  Fenway Park is as unique as Boston itself, and when I see that green grass inside, I get that same feeling I used to get at Tiger Stadium so many years ago.  Seeing a game there, whether you’re emotionally invested in the teams playing or not, is fun, exciting and an intimate experience you get to share with almost 40,000 others in one hell of a great old ball park!

For me it’s almost a continuation of my own childhood, sitting there on the first base side of Fenway Park with the sun setting over the third base side, looking around and just wondering about players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig or Joe Dimaggio digging in at home plate years ago.  It’s about the real appreciation I have for the game when I feel the concrete foundation shake under foot when Jonathan Papelbon (no longer with the team) is trying to close out a save and everyone is cheering him on.  It’s something, really something, and you can’t get it anywhere but here.  It’s almost as if I’m home again, reliving some of my favorite memories for but the first time.

As spring arrives I take stock of my memories of this favorite time of year.  As I sit back on my patio and imagine all the bare trees coming to life again I think back to those wonderful days of my childhood, the old ball park, the smell of those hot dogs as the peddler brought them past me in the aisle, and spending time with my dad enjoying that treat together.  Then reality comes and slaps me in the face and I come back to present day and you know what?  It’s not so bad.  Because this year, we’ve already got tickets to see the Tigers play the Sox at Fenway Park the day after Memorial Day, and reality turns into anticipation to once again make another memory around America’s pastime in a great old ball park.  It’s not exactly like catching a game at Tiger Stadium, but it’s the next best thing.  And just before summer arrives, I’d say that will make this yet another spring to remember, to be put up on the shelf with the rest of them and to be forged into my own stable of memories that make this time of year so special to me.

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