Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 10:13 a.m.
It’s a strange sensation for this time of year. I mourn the loss of baseball.
Oh, the Boston Red Sox are playing a doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals this very day. Late last night, I switched back and forth between a baseball game and election results. The television season is young.
I’ve written about high school baseball and softball since the weather started warming. Mostly baseball. Clinton, Laurens and Laurens Academy all had successful season. The Crusaders are still having theirs. They play in Lexington Thursday for the SCISA (South Carolina Independent Schools Association) Class A state championship against the Holly Hill Academy Raiders. Last night I watched LA force a third game by defeating Holly Hill, 6-5.
It’s been whittled down to a nub, though. I’m going to miss the ping of the bat.
I like TV. I’ve grown adept at reading while it’s on, not to mention writing this. It’s no comparison to being there. TV does not provide enough stimulation to the senses.
On TV, I do not sit in a press box on the roof of the visiting dugout, trying to figure out of whom the burly man bellowing below reminds me.
Eureka! It’s Robert Duvall in The Great Santini!
Even with high definition, I don’t bother to trace the slow degradation of game-tattered uniforms, partly because major-league uniforms are seldom tattered and soon replaced. By season’s end, the white trousers of Clinton’s Brayden Gibbs were sliced open across the right leg, and the red pinstripe down the side was disconnected and hanging at the top. The Red Devils were winning. Gibbs wasn’t about to complain about an old set of togs.
I arrive home and follow a standard routine. Put some coffee on. Fire up the Surface. Hook up the camera. Download the photos. Get the coffee. Edit and crop the photos. Send the best ones in. Make sure the scorebook adds up. Write the story, transcribing in quotations on the fly. Proofread. Send in the story. Wait for it to pop up online while watching late-night baseball or talk shows. Writing, and perhaps the coffee, leaves me unready for sleep. I read to relax and work my way slowly toward a mindset conducive to sleep.
I’m going to miss the reaction of kids being interviewed who aren’t accustomed to it. Some are wonderfully spontaneous. Some are wonderfully scared. Sometimes I yell or motion to a player that I’d like for him to hang around for a while so that I can talk to him, while at the same time recording what his coach has to say.
This warning gives him a short period to think about what he’s going to say. He might think of how much he wants to credit his teammates even for deeds he performed alone.
“What were you thinking as you waited for the pitch you hit to the opposite field for the game-winning double?”
“I was thinking about my teammates who supported me.”
Really. I thought you might be thinking about how you should stay back and wait for a fastball on the outer half. Perhaps I should try another question.
Sometimes I feel stupid listening to the harried questions I asked as I transcribe the tape. I listen to my mumbling questions, wondering how anyone could possibly understand them and realize why the kid tried to turn the attention to the team, because there’s no “me” in team even though there is an “m” and an “e.”
Next year Clinton High will open a new baseball field, one with a grass infield and a press box. Obviously, this will prevent being rained on because, in every season, some rain must fall, but I’m going to miss sitting at a folding table directly behind the plate of The Sponge, trading remarks with scoreboard operator Zack Wofford, public-address announcer Buddy Bridges and assorted others, primarily because it offered such a great view of the pitches. I learned more about the Red Devil pitching staff than I ever would have from a higher vantage.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to sit down there at the new place. Even a shabby home is a home, though. I’ll miss the interaction with the fans and watching them sometimes as much as the game.
At LDHS, I’ll miss the conversations with athletics director Mark Freeze about anything and everything. Almost all of it was off the record by assumed agreement. Besides, my baseball stories have no convenient place for ruminations about bluegrass music and stock car racing. Except this one.
I’ll miss the experience of watching a kid win the game while his father is announcing it on the P.A. I’ll miss watching the flight of a long fly ball to right field, with the bases loaded and the outcome riding on whether or not a streaking kid can intersect it. I’ll miss the cries of fright and then relief when he can.
Baseball on TV is slightly artificial. The heart of baseball is in its roots.
My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a story of politics, corruption, drugs, mistakes of young and old and crime.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that began in songs I wrote.
Crazy of Natural Causes is set in the hills of Kentucky. Chance Benford is a football coach who has to reinvent himself in the aftermath of disaster. It’s a fable of coping with the absurdity of life.
The Intangibles is a story of the South, high school football, civil rights and desegregation, set mostly in the late 1960s.
The Audacity of Dope is the story of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking singer-songwriter who accidentally becomes a national hero and is thus forced to act like one.