I thought I was going to marry Steve Garvey.
When I was eleven years old, I wanted nothing more than to play baseball. My brother and I played catch in the backyard, my father hit me pop flies, and I stepped onto the green field to the roar of the crowd more times in my mind than I care to remember at this moment. If you had asked me then what I would become, I would never have guessed former-high-school-teacher-now-full-time-writer-marrying a Chef. Nope. I would have told you, boldly, that I had only one wish: I wanted to be the first woman in the major leagues.
I still wish it happened, actually.
But at the time, I also would have settled for marrying Steve Garvey.
Now, I cringe a bit. My god, the man looks generic, with his chiseled chin and pleasing grin. It mortified me later to find out that he was doing local informercials in Los Angeles and making motivational speeches. Apparently, he still is. And that hair — a giant swoop of Brylcreem (but wiped off afterward), neatly parted on the side. A Santa Ana wind couldn’t have knocked that one out of place. But when I was eleven, he seemed so handsome in his crisp white uniform. Plus, he played first base, where I have resided at nearly every game of my life.
It wasn’t just Steve Garvey. Really, it was the Dodgers. At eleven, just hitting puberty and full of fervency, I loved the Dodgers. No, I really, really loved the Dodgers. I listened to Vin Scully call every game on the radio. I ate Dodger Dogs outside of the ballpark. And when the games were televised, I sat in our wood-panelled den, in front of the television, wearing my baseball glove.
When Tommy Lasorda said that he knew his veins ran Dodger blue, I always nodded my head. I was theirs.
(If you don’t believe me, take a look at this photo of me and my dad, after one of the games. I apologize in advance for my father’s shorts and tube socks. It was the late 70s, after all.)
But then came October. 1977. Those damned Yankees. Reggie “Fucking” Jackson is how I still refer to him. I don’t want to talk about it.
Here is one of the most wondrous parts of spring, however, besides the asparagus and green leaves. Baseball starts again. Everything begins, fresh. By the spring of 1978, I blamed the Yankees, and I believed in my Dodgers. Even though I was nearly twelve, I had changed in that break over winter. What had happened? I saw a photo of Steve Garvey’s wife, Cindy. Um, no. She was a Barbie doll, come barely to life. Really, Steve, is that who you choose? Well, then you’re not the man for me.
You take life powerfully hard at eleven and twelve.
That year, I switched my allegiances, from Steve Garvey to Ron Cey. Ah, the Penguin. That’s what they called him, since he had a little bow-legged waddle. He wasn’t fast, and he sure wasn’t pretty. But he slammed down into the bag with his entire body when he stole bases, and he came up smudged and grinning. That man worked hard.
So, the season of 1978, I imagined being Ron Cey’s daughter. (I didn’t want to marry him. I had moved onto Mikhail Baryshnikov and Steve Martin for those aspirations.) I imagined him taking me to Dodger Stadium, and letting me sit in the dugout while I wear my pint-sized Dodger uniform. I had the best seats, right above first base, for every game. And within a year, I could be a ball girl and fetch errant foul balls.
That didn’t happen either. And the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the series once again.
Really, I don’t want to talk about it.
Baseball has stayed with me, but never with the same fervency of those years. The Dodgers drifted, and by the time they made it back to the playoffs, there was no more Davey Lopes or Rick Monday. The faces, unfamiliar, failed to inspire me at sixteen.
But baseball always beat within my heart. I played it (my hitting specialty is blistering line drives over the third baseman’s head) and watched it and talked it, sometimes. I’ve never been one to memorize box score minutiae, but I can tell you about all the greats. And if you’re ever in a room with me where a television is showing a ball game, don’t expect to keep my attention. My head drifts over there, no matter what I do.
When I lived in New York, however, I rooted actively for the Mets.
The last year I lived there, the Seattle Mariners played the Yankees in the playoffs, and I knew it was time to come home. I was ready for a home-town team again.
The Mariners? Well, they pretty much stink. They have an incredible talent for drafting young players with enormous skills and then trading them just before they become great. The last three years of Mariner baseball have been abysmal.
But still, there is that baseball beginner’s mind at work, always. In spring, anything is possible.
This is why, on Monday, you might have seen me walking toward Safeco Field. The Chef was on my right, holding my hand. My friend Pete walked to our left, as openly giddy as the two of us. Every block or so, from our impossible parking place twenty-two blocks away, one of us stopped to pump our fist and say out loud, “Baseball!” (Okay, that might have been mostly me.)
I should have known when I saw the first man, scraggly and pleading, holding a cardboard sign: “I need tickets.” Actually, I did know, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. (I hope that’s not a precursor of the Mariners’ season.) After the fifth sign, we all looked at each but didn’t say it. We waited until we had the confirmation from the harried ticket taker: sold out.
Sold out? A Seattle Mariners game? Sure, it was opening day, but these were Seattle fans. At least one-third of them appeared to be women wearing too much makeup and reeking of too much perfume, eager to please the man behind whom they tottered on their high heels. Hey, we deserve your tickets!
I have never been to an Opening Day game in my life. The Chef and I have never been to a baseball game together. It was meant to be….a disappointment.
Luckily, I was walking with two of my favorite men in the world, men as remarkably buoyant and able to rebound from disappointments as I tend to be. So we couldn’t get in — at least we were together.
We ambled across the street to the Pyramid Ale House, where we assumed (correctly) that television screens would sit fixed on any open space. We settled in for some food and plenty of conversation, each of us watching the game, transfixed.
Do you sense any difficulty in this? What is a gluten-free girl supposed to eat at an alehouse?
For that matter, what does a gluten-free girl eat at the ballpark?
I’ll have to let you know about the latter when we try again, later in the season. But at the alehouse across from the ballpark, where nearly everything is beer battered and beer braised and draped in all the glory of everything that is beer? Well, not much.
Normally, the Chef and I go to restaurants with plenty of choices, the freshest of foods, chefs who truly care about sending out the best plate imaginable. This isn’t that kind of place. But it is the perfect place for watching the ball game with friends.
So I had the easiest choice for a celiac who eats meat: a hamburger. When in doubt, go with the beef. Tell them no bun, of course. Remind them of this, strenuously. Warn them of how sick you will grow if you eat any gluten, and this might persuade them to ask the line cook to wipe down the grill before he cooks your burger. No fries for you. Why? Well, even though potatoes are blessedly gluten-free, the fries are dunked in oil where battered fish and onion rings are also submerged. The cross-contamination would make you sick for days. Settle for a salad, and remind the waiter that you don’t want those orange-colored croutons you see on someone else’s plate. Remind him of this, again and again. Choose oil and vinegar, on the side, for your dressing, because you don’t know what bottle they are pouring the glurby ranch dressing from, anyway.
And of course, you could grow annoyed that you didn’t get into the game when you were looking forward to Opening Day. And you could suffer with a sore throat because you have to yell over the sound of the crowd in the alehouse every time there is a strikeout. And you could certainly sulk that you are eating a plain hamburger with a salad without an interesting dressing when you eat so well every other day. And the fries? Who knew you would have to forego fries when you had to give up gluten? Certainly, you could choose to make this a lousy day.
Or, like me, you could laugh your way through it. You could enjoy the closeness you have with the love of your life, and your dear friend, and watch them talk sports moments from the past over you, and grin at the two of them becoming friends. You could cheer with the crowd when the Mariner phenom Felix Hernandez sets up more than a dozen strikeouts in one game. You could feel grateful that you can eat at all, and afford this food, and eat a hamburger in a restaurant without growing sick.
And you could vow to learn to make the best possible fries in your own kitchen someday.
Most of all, we were there. We were laughing. We were cheering.
And baseball is back again.