Baseball is my game. Not to play, curve balls were always a mystery to me, but to enjoy, whether in a ballpark or through a boxscore. I avidly follow the football and basketball fortunes of my alma mater, but I’m more alive in the spring and summer when baseball is being played.
There’s something about the game that grabs hold of one and doesn’t let go. I agree with Lowell Cohn of the Press Democrat about loving the sights, sounds, and smells of the game.
For years, much of my summer travel has directed toward minor league ball. I’ve seen four of the top ten ballparks from this list in The Street. (Although I think the list is too Midwest-centric and misses good ballparks near the three coasts. The parks in Fresno, California, a jewel in a flawed setting, and Birmingham, Alabama, an urban catalyst in the making, quickly come to mind.)
I expect to visit one of the missing six this summer. I also have a tentative plan to catch a ballgame of the Toledo Mud Hens, the favorite team of Corporal Maxwell Klinger, and a firmer plan to visit small town ballparks throughout Appalachia.
Baseball has a complex relationship with urbanism. On one hand, much of mythology of baseball is rural, with stories of fireballing pitchers like Bob Feller discovered in pastoral settings and farmers mysteriously drawn to lay out diamonds on land that everyone in the town thought needed to be planted in corn.
On the other hand, the game was first codified in New York City and first game of organized ball was played on a bluff above the Hudson River in New Jersey. And, as the late commissioner of baseball, A. Bartlett Giamatti, was found of noting, the word “paradise” is derived from an Iranian word for walled garden, which is a spot-on description of an enclosed patch of an emerald green outfield in the midst of a city.
I embrace both sides of the divide. One of my favorite ballparks, and one that I’ll revisit this summer, is in the small Tennessee town of Elizabethton. The ramshackle park is tucked near the banks of the Watauga River, close to where the first government of European immigrants outside of the original thirteen colonies was established. (With its 1772 founding date, the Watauga Association predated the first town government of my ancestral home, Marietta, Ohio, by six years.)
Sitting in the third base stands, I watched in 2011 as the Pulaski Mariners battled the Elizabethton Twins. (For those who follow Major League ball, among the Twins that evening were Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario, all of whom have played for the big league Twins this season.) As the game played out in front of me, I could hear the quiet burble of the river behind me. Even better, I could hear the sounds of children riding bikes along the river, enjoying a small town summer.
But I also found the ballpark in Greenville, South Carolina to be striking. A Fenway Park emulation, in keeping with the affiliation between the Greenville Drive and the Boston Red Sox, set within the downtown grid, and adjoined by office buildings, it has elements of the Giamatti ideal of a walled paradise.
So, with the game and my allegiance split between urban and rural settings, where does the future of the game lay? I’ll suggest that it lays anywhere that can be conveniently accessed without the environmental and walkability impacts of private-owned vehicles and acres of parking, whether that means electric autonomous vehicles dropping fans at the front gate of rural ballparks before driving on or subway lines exiting at the rotundas of downtown parks.
With that vision in mind, let me share an expectation I have for the summer of 2018. By then, SMART, the commuter rail system coming to the North Bay, should have opened its extension to Larkspur.
During that summer, I should be able to exit my front door, pat the fender of my car as I pass it by, walk a short distance to a bus stop for Petaluma Transit, realigned to better connect with SMART, ride a bus to the SMART station, take the train to Larkspur, with special attention to the lower Petaluma River where the train diverges from the freeway to snake through a setting of farms and tidal marshes, catch a ferry, feeling the salty breeze on the deck, arrive near the right center field corner of AT&T Park, enjoy nine innings in a walled garden, and then reverse the trip home.
What a marvelous outing to envision for the year I turn 65. What a change to experience over the course of my life. I only regret that it’s still two years away.
I’ve recently been pondering the complementary, but unevenly embraced, roles of visioning and execution. I’ll offer insights when I next write.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)