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Pins And Needles: Hocus Pocus

"Don’t let any old black magic put you in its spell,'' advises Gloria MacKay. "Be selective.''

And Gloria's particular "magic'' involves bat and ball.

It would be a shame for a person to go through life without believing in some sort of magic. Yet, it isn’t good to be too gullible; as we run the fine line between dreams and logic we have to be careful. Furthermore, as the saying goes, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Or to put it another way, don’t let any old black magic put you in its spell. Be

Children trust every kind of magic that happens along, but as we become worldly we don’t like to be fooled. It is embarrassing. But we all have our weaknesses, our moments when chills of wonder work their ways up and down our spines. At some point or another, the charm of hocus pocus makes believers of us all.

For the most part I’m skeptical about hoodoo and voodoo and legerdemain. I am no dreamer, someone who fawns over crystals and aches for out-of–body experiences. Most of the time I am literal, grounded, pragmatic.

But toward the end of every February, recovered from Christmas and feeling smothered by stale air and heavy blankets I wander outside, for no reason. I feel a pause like the silence when a cassette tape changes direction. I’m ready but I don’t know what for.

I fidget all through the month of March, and finally it’s April, the month that throws off tulips, fresh asparagus and magic. Finally, my kind of magic. I know where I’m going. I capitulate. I sit, hands folded, and wait for the show, as though the time was a hundred years ago and the production was vaudeville.

In those days showmen hit the roads peddling their wares to grown-ups and children alike. Auditoriums hummed, full of lights and shadows, bright flowers, gaudy scarves, uninvited animals and welcomed women, all parading around the stage defying gravity and common sense. Often there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.

But competition is the name of every game. Everyone started talking about another kind of magician escape artist - whatever that is - named Houdini. The “handcuff king”. Houdini wriggled out of jail cells and vaults. He sank to the bottom of the river sealed in a packing box. He crammed into a tank of water head first, feet tied. And while the world covered its eyes, Houdini climbed out as cocky as a cat with nine lives. Eventually, he made even his final escape in style—he died on Halloween.

Compared to the histrionics of Houdini and the antics of vaudevillians the kind of magic show I’m waiting for was slow moving at first. It started off along the eastern seaboard more with a whimper than a bang. And then in 1919 in Chicago the whimper turned into a moan. Eight members of a magical team decked out in white socks were charged and convicted of practicing black magic. After that shameful affair it is amazing the show got on the road at all.

But of course it did. How could it be otherwise? This is magic made in America. Melting pot magic. You get a little bit of everything. The dexterity of a juggler. The tension of a seance. The luck of the draw. You get to feel sunshine and smell grass and sit in a stadium and roar. Best of all, you get to witness a monumental struggle between leather and wood. You get baseball – America’s pastime – half sport and half magic. Baseball! Days and days and nights and nights of baseball.

Fielders stand and wait while pitchers throw, and batters swing and run like crazy. That’s the sports part of the game. The occasional, unforgettable crack of a bat smacking a ball, followed by the sight of all heads turning skyward – except for the batter’s who doesn’t have to look, he knows – that’s the magic part of the game.

Imagine springtime without baseball? The season would be as empty as a hat without a rabbit. Imagine a sunny Sunday afternoon without baseball? The day would be as incomplete as a deck of cards without the ace of spades. Imagine a stadium empty, with no teams and no fans? It would be as sad as an empty mind with nothing left to remember.

Imagine fans without baseball? We could cope. We could fill our need for magic some other way. We could start wishing on stars. But when wishes get rained out they can’t always be rescheduled. We could develop a sixth sense. But can you take a sixth sense stretch? We could read minds. But we don’t know all the signals.

If you don’t remind me that baseball is a business, not a sport, I won’t remind you that flying saucers are just pie in the sky. If you don’t harp that baseball is overpriced and slow-moving I won’t tell you the whole darn deck of cards is marked. And if you will try to see the magic in my five ounce leather ball stuffed with cork and rubber and wool I will try to see the magic in your big round crystal one.

What if I could introduce you to a quintessential combination of baseball and magic. A Houdini wearing a catcher’s mask, a hall-of-famer with a metaphysical bent. Yogi is his name. People listen when he talks.

Yogi says, “You’d be surprised by how much you can observe by watching.”

Yogi says, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
And Yogi says, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

That’s the very thing I wait for all year long. Déjà vu all over again. The tulips and the fresh asparagus and the glow of baseball that lights up the spring.


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