It’s August, and New York City is hotter and sweatier than Satan’s armpit. That means it’s time for baseball!
There are all kinds of sports and sport fans in New York — New Jersey too, which sometimes names local teams things like “The New York Giants” for the promotional benefits. I’ve ignored all of them successfully for years. I’ve never been a sports fan. The whole enterprise seems pointless at best and painful at worst.
Here’s how bad I was. Once, I had a job where I had to call up sales reps and ask them questions such as “what kind of thermoplastic color additives does your company offer?” One fine day, Phil Rizzuto’s brother answered the phone. During the course of the interview about thermoplastic color additives, he slipped in the information that Phil was
his brother. He was crestfallen when, in my ignorance, I said “Phil Rizzuto …oh, you mean the Money Store guy?” This was because the great Phil Rizzuto, the Scooter, was shilling on local cable TV for some local check-cashing loan sharks (sorry Money Store, I know you are actually a reputable loan institution specializing in second mortgages.)
This state of affairs had to change when I married Al. Suddenly, I was living with a Dominican baseball nut. Baseball is more like a religion than a hobby in the Dominican Republic. There are six teams in the Dominican League (four when Al was a kid), and you are born into a baseball team, a family, a town, a province, and a country. In that order. Al, like the rest of his family, was born into the Aguilas Cibaeñas (“Eagles of Cibao”). Their color is yellow.
One fine day, Aunt Milli showed up in the family hacienda sporting a new boyfriend from the Big City. He was wearing a RED “Leones del Escogido” (“Lions of the Chosen One”) hat. Aunt Milli was ALSO wearing a RED hat. Dead silence reigned as this fact slowly sunk in. And that was pretty much the end of civil family relations with Aunt Milli. She didn’t marry that particular boyfriend, but there were cousins who wouldn’t speak to the woman for YEARS. This included a devoutly Catholic Great Aunt who was moved to tears when another young cousin got converted by some kind of American Baptist on a mission. Great Aunt Genoveva prayed for the Baptist cousin every day, and shook her head, and murmured “una trajedia” every time her name was mentioned. Leaving your Catholic faith? That’s a tragedy. Leaving your baseball team? That’s blasphemy.
Then, Al’s family relocated to The Bronx. His family lived one block away from Yankee Stadium. His youthful enthusiasm transferred seamlessly to The Bombers, especially since a lot of their best players were from his homeland (that’s true of all teams, of course.) When I told him the Phil Rizutto’s brother story, he waivered between disbelief and horror. So, it was clear from Day One that I was hitching myself to baseball whether I liked it or not.
Over time, I’ve started to like baseball. I’m not exactly an enthusiastic fan, and I have been known to take some kind of needleworking project along to the stadium in case things get slow, but I love the experience. The crowds, the peanuts, the civilized pace, the strange things that can happen at any time. And the history. I now consider myself a Yankee fan-by-marriage: a fan-in-law, if you will.
Al, in the meantime, is disgusted. They tore down his beloved House that Ruth Built and put up an expensive sushi emporium that occasionally hosts a ball game. Seats for eighty dollars? Sushi at the snack bar? That’s not the spirit of baseball! Baseball should be quirky, not institutionalized! Baseball should be for the people, not for the corporations! In the Dominican Republic, kids who don’t own iPhones or Air Jordans still own a baseball glove. They learn how to say a few critical words in English (“esssssTRIKE” and “I got it!”) because you never know. Everyone in San Pedro de Macoris knows someone with a cousin who made it big in the major leagues.
Baseball does best when it is more like politics or religion, and less like a theme park.
Next week, more about where to find baseball in New York City.
footnote: Al has some clarifications. First of all, it wasn’t the Lions that were the major rivals of the Eagles. It was “Los Tigres del Licey” (the Tigers of the Licey – a river in the Dominican Republic). Also, when I asked who is “The Chosen One” that the Lions were being chosen for, Al cast a gimleted eye and asked “who do you think?” Me: “Jesus?” Al: “Bigger than that.” Me: “Trujillo?” Al: “Bingo!” You can read about Trujillo here.