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Pins And Needles: Scrambling Home

"Baseball is not just a game to me, it is part of my life,'' writes Gloria MacKay.

Olga, my genteel friend and longtime mentor, sitting erect on her plastic patio chair, as white as her hair, looked straight into me and inquired with a trace of an ingenuous frown, “Dear, why do you like to watch baseball games on television with the men?”

I fumbled for a flip retort, feeling as though I had been caught in some sort of indiscretion. I was annoyed, with myself, not my friend. She was right. At that very moment I would rather be inside with the guys watching the ball game … even though they wouldn’t want me around and she does.

I should have told Olga right off the bat, as we lovers of the game like to say, all the reasons why baseball is one of my favorite things … but I did not know why. I mumbled disclaimers, instead. Watch baseball? Me? I don’t even know the rules. How high is an infield fly? How big is a strike zone? How far is a bunt? Who makes up the ground rules, anyway?

My friend interrupted my silence: she rose from her chair and went inside where I heard her putting on a fresh pot of coffee. Clearly she was sorry she had brought the subject up. I was relieved; I needed a chance to think. Baseball is not just a game to me, it is part of my life. The neighborhood where I grew up was within walking distance (at least in those safe, slow tempoed days of the 1940s) to Sick’s Seattle Stadium, home of the Seattle Rainiers. At that time, in my town, one couldn’t find a sport more professional than that.

The stadium, painted creamy beige, hunkered into its site like a giant squash that could never be moved. Actually, all sorts of vegetables were planted, thrived, and harvested on the hillside sprawling above left field, the same hillside where frugal fans spread blankets and watched the game free.

When the Rainiers played at home I could stand in my front yard and let the roar of the crowd drift over me in the grandest stereophonic sound you could imagine. While cheers and groans flew out of the stadium and bounced along rooftops, the same sounds at the same time spewed from the radios lined up on almost every front porch in the neighborhood. Grown-ups clustered heads, intent on every pitch, while children met at the corner and played — what else but baseball? How could a kid, even a girl, grow up on a street like this and not love this game for the rest of her life?

This is what I should have told Olga. When she rose from her chair to escape I should have eased her back down and kept talking. I would take her back to my high school days. To one particular class taught by Mr. Wettleson, the journalism teacher. Mr. Wettleson was most relaxed hanging around with his students in the little school newspaper office next to the classroom, but he knew how to tower over us and teach with a capital T. The traditional way. Sit still. Raise your hands. Stay on the subject,

One afternoon he stood before us jacket off, tie awry, and hurled an hour of proverbs, clichés and old saws like he was giving us batting practice. Our task was to tell him the meaning of these figures of speech. The pen is mightier than the sword. No problem for us. After all, we were journalism students. A little learning is a dangerous thing. As easily handled as a pop fly. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Our hands waved in the air. Birds of a feather flock together ...You can lead a horse to water… The grass is always greener ... We retired the side.

A friend to all is a friend to none he barked; we grappled with this a bit longer. Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall. As the clock ticked toward the end of the hour our hands became less jumpy. Condemn the fault but not the actor of it. What was Shakespeare trying to say?

A final shot was delivered too quickly for us to be saved by the bell; he did us in with The child is father of the man. We pondered silently, hands in our laps. We could not figure this out. Students piled up in the hallway but Mr. Wettleson did not open the door until he dragged the meaning out of us with the help of a nature versus nurture dissertation, one final allusion to little acorns and a wry little smile which brought us out of our seats and on to the next class.

The child has been on my mind ever since. With all respect to the best teacher I ever had, something here was not quite right. You know how it is when you can’t sleep but you don’t have to think of things to think about because your mind is swinging bats faster than you can throw the balls? In this chaos I figured out what my favorite teacher must have been thinking as he opened the door. The child is the mother of the woman, as well.

This is what I should have explained to Olga and then lobbed her a cliché of my own. A picture is worth a thousand words. As a one-time journalism student I generally still opt for the thousand words, but a picture will do when I can’t hear the roar of the crowd floating over the rooftops above the clamor of the radios on every front porch in the neighborhood.


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