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I Kan't Spell



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

 
Fall Ball

"Ya know..." I was talking to Erin the other night on the couch as we watched the beginning of Field of Dreams.
"No what...loon?"
"Ya know this movie was supposed to be called "Feel of the Grass" but they thought that had too many undertones."
and then I said the line where Shoeless Jackson says, "Did you ever hold a ball or a glove up to your nose and just smelled it. God I loved this game. I would have played it for nothing."
"You are absurd." as always follows...

It reminded me of something. The phrase "Feel of the Grass" reminded me of the fall and of baseball and of smells. Even in the city the world has that fall smell. It's crisper, and a little cold, and it almost smells like something was cleaned last night and today it is ready for you to use.

The fall is just about everyone's favorite season. Some people love the slowdown and the early falling nights. Some people love their jackets and jeans to be back on their bodies. Some people love that their kids go back to school and decent nighttime television starts all over again. I love it because it reminds me of fall baseball.

When I walk out of my house in the morning at about 8:15 and walk my 5 blocks to work down Charles, and passed the Belvedere Hotel I sometimes get this wafting flavor in my nose this time of year. They say that the sense of smell is the one closest attributed to memories and I would agree that completely. For me these smells bring back memories of about 3 years of my life. They were maybe the best smell years aside from Mirel's perfume that I often pick up or from the smell of my Grandfather's yard which I rarely pick up. The smells that envelope me are always the smells of two things.

The first is my high school hallway. Lacquered and waxed, windexed and dusted it was the smell of freshness mixed with years of men and volumes of stories and interactions. It was the smell of when life really started to be defined for me. Working in this old building I get the scent every now and then and it makes me stop and smile at the ceiling as if to say, “Thank you for that little memory."

The second smell is the dew on the trees and even the smell of the crisp air. It gets in your nose, lungs, and eventually your balls and back. It makes you think that you should have brought a coat, or maybe "God I wonder how cold it's going to be at 5 when I come back home?" But that smell doesn't remind me of school or women or even back yards on a Sunday morning after a house party when you are surveying the damage. It reminds of baseball, fall baseball to be precise.

You see in Maryland and most northern states, you have to be in the top 1% of everyone you play with in order to get any kind of scholarship or preferential consideration to play at the college level. We have maybe 3 school months per year when you can really play baseball and even those months are filled with rain, wind, and sometimes snow. This means that college and pro-scouts have a hard time coming to see you because they have their own teams to coach etc... So around here...what we had to do was play Fall Baseball.

It is a completely different feeling to play baseball in the early fall. It's cold at 7 am when you show up to the field. Players are tired from a long summer and the people on your team are like mercenaries. Sometimes they are there and sometimes not. Sometimes they play on other teams just to get more time in front of these scouts that can only really come out and watch kids from the North East during these times. These times when your hands sting from getting sawed off on an inside fastball and when your hamstrings and quads tend to pull a little easier and the jokes and seeds and tobacco on the benches don't get hoarded and passed around as treats as much as they get passed around as necessities to keep your mind from wondering.

But there is one great thing about fall baseball in Maryland. It is elite to play. You play with boys and young men who have given up their fall weekends instead of their Summer Tuesday night. They travel to Old Dominion, George Mason, Taney Town, Westminster, Maryland's Eastern Shore to sleep in hotels ... not with their parents like in the summer when you would travel like a family... but with other young men whom sometimes you didn't know their names. And you don't stay up late and play drinking games or cards. You don't go bowling on a lazy off day during the heat of August because you are in the bye-round of a round robin. You show up at 6 pm on a Friday night and play a double header until midnight and then play 3 games on Saturday and 2 on Sunday before going home to finish your homework for school. You give up on your soccer or football careers because you just can't do both. You play 60 games in 8 long weekends and you do it in the crisp mornings and cold nights of fall.

But, like all great teams, units, platoons you take pride in the awkward pain and sacrifices because you are there with each other. In this case you are there with future Major Leaguers and great college ball players. Your coaches aren't people you call Mr. Jerry like when you are 12...they are ex-ball professional players of whom you may have their baseball card. And the pride in you swells. That pride gets in your nose on fall mornings.

I loved fall ball. I loved the smell of a 40-degree Saturday morning field. The water on the grass would make you chill when you slid. The dirt on the base paths would cut your thighs when you dove. The bat in your hands was like a lead weight instead of like a wooden toothpick. And the smell that came from the batters box and the outfield and the hotel rooms is what I remember most when I breathe in the fall mornings. It gives me tingles in my hands like someone is going to ask me to play catch on my way to work. It sends a smile to my face every time I walk out the door. It makes me just want to feel and smell the grass one more time.

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