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Monday, July 15, 2013
Midsummer Nights. Dreams.

By Jeff MacGregor
ESPN.com

State Island baseball
From the stands on Staten Island, baseball isn't the only thing of interest.

O ballparks of long ago with thousands of straw hats tossed high in the air when someone hit a homerun in the ninth! You went the way of the walking stick, the cuspidor, the barbershop quartet singing "Sweet Adeline," and old men collecting cigarette butts at the entrance to the subway long after the game was over and everyone had gone home.

Charles Simic, Laureate
July 12, 2013, 9:05 a.m.

*  *  *

Flat calm and late sun bright on the water and the big container boats, 15 stories high, slide by the outfield on the Constable Hook Reach into the bay. Past the new Manhattan skyline, down the Narrows, under the Verrazano and beyond Gravesend into the lower harbor, bound for Europe, for Africa, for Norfolk and Tampa, for the Med, the Canal, the Gulf.  At home plate the I.S. 51 school band plays the national anthem. It's game night on Staten Island.

Class A short season Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones, first week of summer. Most beautiful ballpark in America. Somewhere else the big games came and went -- and came and went and came and went again -- until every big game was bigger than the last, the biggest ever, and the short nights ran deep and late with hype and overtime and the longest day of the year felt like a long time coming. Our fevered summer of everything everywhere all at once. A dream of omniscience, of guilt and not guilty and joy and paranoia and the NSA, of a million voices pouring into a million ears, of useless Argus and a million unseeing eyes and everyone watching everyone watching everyone else watch them. Half a year ahead of us, half already behind, at the tipping point the All-Stars come to New York City.

*  *  *

Up in the Bronx on the rolling Broadway parade grounds in Van Cortlandt Park, the batsmen and the bowlers dap and trash-talk mystic languages on the cricket lawns at the foot of the statue of Gen. Josiah Porter, that U.S. hero of efficiency.

NY Summer Cricket
Van Cortlandt Park, field of cricket dreams.

Flannels white against the green. Long pants. Like a garden party. Kids every color laugh or fuss or run for the ice cream truck. Old men and wives and girlfriends, sons and daughters watch from the benches and the steps in the shade beneath the trees, keeping score in long, narrow ledgers. Even here the umpires wear lab coats and flat-crowned hats with wide, stiff brims. The ball comes in medium-fast, windmill overhand, skids one hop, angles off the half-swung willow and rolls red across the grass. Run then, but leisurely.

Joggers shuffle by and kites rise and the games and the men standing in a broad green field under a yellow sun feel out of time, untroubled, and everywhere the sharp hot smell of a haymow, and of another age. This is at 242nd street, the last stop on the 1 Line.

*  *  *

They'll find a man dead in these woods a few nights later.

*  *  *

The long sun and the long shadows of summer, that sense of possibility and time suspended. The July afternoons of your imaginary childhood. Limitless. Misremembered. No sound but the ratchet of cicadas. Fiction. Nostalgia for what never was.

Maybe the genius of play, of baseball, of sports and games and the genius of America, is the creation of a never-ending present. Into which no sadness intrudes. No history and no future, only the first forever day of summer.

*  *  *

Out on Surf Avenue, just up from Nathan's and not a block off the boardwalk in Coney Island, the Cyclones wait out the rain delay. This is Brooklyn, opening night. First night back after the hurricane. When Sandy hit, the dugouts and the clubhouses filled with sea water. So did Nathan's.

Nathan's
A simple summer rainout? Coney Island has seen worse.

We huddle on the concourse, sweating and streaming rainwater. We're here to see rawboned kids get their hacks in against wild sidearm fireballers. Children stomp the puddles and moms and pops steam in their ponchos and order more hot dogs and more beer and look down at the field then up at the sky. No one is unhappy.

Woody Guthrie lived 14 blocks that way, on Mermaid Avenue, and you can feel Walt Whitman at your back. In front of me is a young man whose braids are the fireworks of his thoughts.

They send us all home at 9.

*  *  *

Up at the Rucker young men run hard end to end, rising like kites in the heat, and a hot wind shakes the leaves of the oaks and the plane trees, and the shadow of the Polo Grounds Towers falls over every one of us. Rucker, mother and mother tongue of the game. Basketball our dream of flying. Of escape. Maybe we're safe in here. Maybe not. Outside these lines it's all too much of everything else.

*  *  *

What baseball sells is the memory of baseball.

*  *  *

At night from Jones Beach or Breezy Point or the ballpark on Coney Island you can watch the lights of the big boats glide past, the big ships down from Bayonne, from Staten Island, down from the Narrows and Gravesend, down from the city and bound for the horizon and into the darkness.

Ride the F Train home.

What it all means remains unclear.



NY Summer