“Sleep undisturbed within this peaceful shrine,
Till angels wake thee with a note like thine.” – Johnson
The three men sat and slouched on a couch and wooden chair. The women were out; all was still, silent, but the voice of a man calling a baseball game. I sat with my father and his, huddled around the sound of a pastime. And we were past time.* Three generations of a family, each the oldest male in line, listened to balls colliding with leather and wood, the cheers of a skeleton-crowd, and the subtle cry of an announcer. The pitcher was struggling. He had given up a home run in each of his last twelve appearances, the longest streak in over a decade. In New York, he allowed five; four came in one inning. That day, he added to his streak.
“We must be leading the league in home runs allowed,” I said despairingly. My father rose in between innings; a few clicks later, he reported. Top five in the majors. The next inning began. “Unofficially: Four-hundred and seventy feet,” we heard. Longest in that ballpark’s history. My grandfather grimaced; I and my father groaned. But our team answered with their own moon-shot and won four runs to two.
Two days later, the three men again met around the sound. The pitcher was having a night; seven shutout innings in a row, sandwiched between two one-run innings.
“He’s still pitching?” my father bellowed from another room. He needed three more outs for a complete game, our team’s first of the year. He got two. We said nothing as he was pulled, and I inwardly groaned. I told my father and grandfather of the best pitching performance I witnessed in person: an eighty-pitch gem in which we scored four and shutout the team from Cincinnati. “I remember that game,” said my grandfather, as if remembering. Later that year I’d watch the Cy-young winner lose a 2-1 contest in extra innings. The playoffs weren’t on our radar that year. But it wasn’t out of range now; closer than four-hundred and seventy feet. We listened in silence as the game concluded, disappointed not to hear a complete game, satisfied not to hear another home run ball.
In those late-afternoons spent in a small Arizona town, huddled around a baseball game, two time-periods clashed. I am inching closer to thirty, but, despite my old bones, I know I am yet young. My grandfather was born on the eve of battle in ’39; my father in ’59, on the eve of another battle; I broke ranks and came into the world missing ’89 by one month and three days, amidst the destruction of battlegrounds. A gap of over fifty years sat slouched on a couch; familial blood and a ball-game brought us together; one sound shattered the boundaries of age, time, experience. I wonder now how many games my father and grandfather have collectively heard; I wonder what they did when we won in ’85. Times were different now. While we huddled around a baseball game as men did when the world was slower, when there was less to do; when we observed this hallowed ritual, we did so in the most modern way: around a MacBook, listening to our team, playing two-thousand miles away in Philadelphia. The game was fed through a wireless internet connection; the sounds were crisp and clear; the modern-microphone misses little; but we missed the crackling of radio waves; we missed fine-tuning the dial to find the station; we missed local commercials and endured the same, automated advertisements at each inning-break; we missed parts of calls, cut off from the feed, at times, because we lagged so far behind the live game action. But what we missed most of all was the defining element of radio-listening: the necessity to listen. As we listened, we watched an app flash balls and strikes before our eyes. We weren’t forced, as we should have been, to keep track of the game situation in our head. If my father or grandfather asked, “how many outs?” we could ignore, for the present, that all-important announcer and simply refer to the screen. We could, in a real and true sense, listen to the game without actually listening to it.
On road trips, I often search stations for ballgames – any game, any team. I always pick a team to cheer, generally those whose announcers call the game. On my drive to Arizona last month, I listened as the Rockies hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth against the Diamondbacks. I yelled my frustrations with the rest of Arizona and their two announcers. I remember, too, listening in on a Colorado football game while driving under the dark night-skies of Iowa with two friends. The feed was rocky, and I caught but glimpses of gains, losses, fading in and out as my friends fought for sleep. The game must have been close, for the announcers were often yelling. But then, it could have been the feed. Once you start to lose a signal, every time an audible voice is heard through the crackling storm of white noise, it is like the voice is crying out through the wilderness. It is as if the man yells over and across the storm, and every gain of two reverberates like a touchdown.
Once, upon another cold, darkened road in Oklahoma, my father and I listened to a late-night AM talk-show. We puttered along in a dying, Ford Tempo, built the year I was born, its back-bumper hanging off. It lacked a tape-deck, so we crushed the prairie-silence and car’s wheezing last-breaths with radio-sounds. An angry lady raged like game-announcers. She had been dismissed from the winter Olympics for bringing a gun. So she raged against injustice; the host mocked her. She raged on; he mocked her still. We chuckled; we considered changing the station. She kept raging. Neither of us moved a muscle. She may still be raging as I write.
The radio in my home sits atop a dark-brown coffee-table. It is a small, wood-paneled, radio; it requires precise dial-tuning, a game of nanometers. The only music it sings is classical. In Vegas, a man may listen continuously to classical music. It is unnecessary, perhaps. But there is something about prayer and soft-Baroque before Sunday-worship;** there is something in motoring madly around town to Mozart; there is something in dancing to Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” in startling an orange tabby like some spritely Russian goddess; there is something in arriving to work to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” There is something sweet, yet almost sinister, eerie, uncanny in a lonely choir on a lonely Friday evening. There is something in rocking by dim-lit lamps, a hallowed-haunting, as choir-voices seem to seep through walls; there is a certain spookiness in understanding words but not language; there is a certain ecstasy, an ecstasy that is an eeriness even, in smoking a pipe and listening to Mendelssohn’s “Ave Maria,” as both you and the orange tabby look on in great awe and wonder.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Wednesday, July 20-21, 2016
Painting: "Night Scene in a Watch Office
By Leslie Cole,
Oil on canvas, 1942
*See Bryn Homuth’s poem, “The Empty Field Game: Baltimore, MD, April 29, 2015"
**There is something else entirely in listening to soft-Baroque and then entering a modern-day, happy-clappy, fast-food mass.