I have read another book. I have been reading quite a bit recently. Three and a half books in the last 10 days of 2010, and now one and a half in the first 10 of 2011.
The first four were mediocre to adequate, or maybe adequate to mediocre. Kaleidoscope by Danielle Steele (I know, I know, I have a degree in English Literature, I should not be reading Danielle Steele), Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger (nowhere near as good as The Time Traveller’s Wife, but similar in its strangeness), The Kid by Kevin Lewis (a bit of a heartbreaker about a tough life) and the rather funny My Legendary Girlfriend by Mike Gayle (properly heralded as the male Brigitte Jones). This last one, though, appeared to me a shining beacon out of another overcast afternoon in Sabie. Summer of ’98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America by Mike Lupica was 209 pages of baseball stories, stats, and sentiments that my sister could have told me in half the time it took me to read the whole book.
Chronicling his own experience of the chase of Roger Maris’ illustrious 61 by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Lupica reaches back into his own memory and the annals of statistics that baseball is so good at and explains how one summer; baseball re-took its place as America’s favourite pastime. “One memory always bouncing off another here, then another” (pg. 197) Lupica traces not only the story of these two baseball greats as they chase a 37-year old record and each other to the end of the regular season, but relates the here and now of ’98 to all of the years gone by of baseball. The greats like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and the one-timers, like Larsen who I’m sure Jaclyn already knew threw a perfect game in ’56 before Wells did it in ’98.
Aside from the fact that the four weather-hardened guys who run this hostel can’t believe that I am a) reading on a day when there is little enough rain to possibly be doing something else and b) just finished an entire book in less than an afternoon, they also do not understand baseball. They don’t get why I am getting all excited at the thought of actually watching McGwire’s 62nd home run, seeing Cal Ripken Jr. sit out for the first time in 16 years. How I remember that before McGwire forgot to touch first base on that famous home run, Joe Carter forgot in ’93 on another famous home run when the Blue Jays won their second in a row World Series. How the smell of a baseball mitt and the smell of your hand after it’s been in said mitt all day isn’t really a smell at all, but a memory of summer after summer in the sun on grass and gravel. They think it’s a lot of work to run 90 feet 4 times for just one run, and why is a home run called a home run? They asked did I play? Yes. How long? 11 years when I was a kid, and the last 5 summers. Why? Because it’s the greatest game. Because even if reading a book about a season 13 years in the past is all the baseball I will see in the next 6 months, it might just be enough to tide me over until I get to a country that appreciates the game for all its intricacies and its pure good fun.
I did go on a two hour caving adventure by candle light this morning. And until I read the book it was the highlight of my day. Wandering through absolutely pitch-black passages of stale air, following a piece of twine put there by heaven only knows who and hoping it doesn’t lead to a giant pit of snakes, covered in mud head-to-toe wearing a jumpsuit and a pair of borrowed gum boots, crawling through tunnels just big enough to fit the circumference of my body – all a great time, don’t get me wrong. But baseball, even just the reading about baseball reminded me of home and of important memories that an entire other continent of people share with each other about a game that I understand. Sometimes, it’s the little bit of home that can make all the difference.