The computer is angled so dozens of strangers won’t have to look over my shoulder and into my bathroom. Also, the general mood of the dogs — three yellow labs — is a consideration, and whether this will go better with them in the room or hurling themselves against a closed door. There’s an airport nearby, so window open or closed? Food plates cleared from the coffee table, because that’s just untidy. Lights dimmed to soften the forehead glow that wasn’t there just a few years ago but now would melt a passing Cessna. But not so dimmed Dusty Baker thinks he’s getting a question from a guy hiding in a hamper.
All set. The public relations man announces Baker will be along in a moment for his post-game video conference.
The phone dings.
“You’re gonna make poor Dusty watch the celebration through Zoom?”
Right, the television in clear view, where the Tampa Bay Rays are changing into their American League champions T-shirts, the ones the Houston Astros didn’t get.
People are just going to have to live with the bathroom. Yes, I micro exfoliate, OK?
“There ya go.”
The sights and smells of October
Decades ago, a baseball writer with veins on his nose and a nightly deadline of an hour before last call told me well after one of those deadlines, “Don’t tell them, show them.” I hadn’t the skills, necessarily, to watch a ballgame and then fan it with words so it would live to the morning paper. But I tried.
I wish I could blame him for decades of overwriting (or deadline preferences). The fact is, in my earnestness to “show them,” I fell for the way a ballpark sounded, what it smelled like, for the smirk at the end of an interview gone bad, for the young man who loses and then tilts his head to keep the tears from falling. I fell for quiet gestures and grudges, for the perfect pitch struck squarely, and I’d simply have to run down afterward to the man who threw it and the man who hit it to ask why. One of those generally went better than the other.
I liked scouts. They always knew why. Sometimes they were wrong, but they always knew why anyway. They liked the sounds and smells too. I liked the last guy on the bench, the .200-hitting glove man who probably was the best athlete to ever come out of his town. I liked the failure at least as much as the parades, because everybody saw the parades. There was no missing those.
I don’t know if any of this was showing them instead of telling them. I do know the best part about October was walking to a ballpark in a city that is beside itself with anticipation. With anxiety. With beer. Those afternoon strolls, backpack heavier by the step, in Cleveland or San Francisco or Chicago or Boston, even the couple hundred-yard walk from the parking lot to the entrance in Kansas City, the subway hustle from Midtown to E. 161st Street, those were some sights and smells. Unattached to any outcome, I felt invisible and part of it at the same time.
I sometimes thought of the games as a writing contest. Put hundreds of men and women in a tiered room, point them in the same direction, open the windows, brew up some coffee, present them with the same facts and then count the heads as they explode. Some days were better than others. Some sounded and smelled better. The days, not the heads.
Baseball through a screen
The whole game is to stay off the couch. Some days I wear socks. One loud and elusive fly can ruin the whole afternoon. I read Moby Dick. The whale wins. I wonder if today they’d put Ahab on Zoom to explain himself.
Nobody is keeping score at home. I keep score at home. Also, I am convinced I do my best thinking while on the couch. My wife enters, remarks on the room’s odor, and I — still wearing gym clothes from seven hours earlier — dutifully point at the dogs. They cover for me. I have treats. I started the summer as a bad guitar player. I have advanced to bad guitar player with calluses on my fingertips. When TV broadcasters laugh I believe it maybe 10 percent of the time. Every car alarm is probably mine. The whole game is to get off the couch.
I covered three months of baseball by watching it on television, which, of course, a lot of other people did too, and it is a blessing. I could still do my job, and the company still wanted me to do my job, and I am both grateful for that and healthy. It can be all that and so totally weird at the same time.
Two months of that had less to do with the games themselves than the sport trying to dodge bird poop in an aviary. I wasn’t sure it would make it. Now it’s played two games of the World Series and I’m slightly more optimistic. The past month, then, has been about games you can’t hear or smell, Zoom calls that project the warmth of a bartender in the weeds — man I miss bartenders in the weeds — and outcomes whose stories are told but not, you know, shown.
The reason for the distance is also the reason the 2020 season and its champion will be one of the great baseball tales of our lifetimes. However legitimate you might believe this championship, it was different and hard and asked a lot of people for a lot of sacrifices. Also, it was just baseball, a dumb game played to keep us amused for a few hours. And those people did it anyway. At the end we’d add it all up, try to get everyone home safely and hope the country was well enough in a few months to try it again. If not, there’d be bigger problems than no baseball.
Meantime, there’s a game to score from home. There will be Zooms. There will be stories to write. It’s not the same. Little is.
I told a friend I’ve spent so much time watching baseball on TV my couch has a divot in it.
He said, “My whole life’s a divot.”
I really gotta stay off the couch.
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