January 19, 2006
College baseball season is looming, which means I’m about to tackle my second consecutive year spending serious time at Disch-Falk field in Austin, Texas — home of the University of Texas Longhorns and one of the most storied programs in college baseball. Oh, yeah, and also the defending champions of the NCAA College World Series, which they also won in 2002. With an intro like that, it sounds a lot like I’m a Johnny-come-lately, jumping on the home team bandwagon as they crest the hill of success. I can prove that that is an inaccurate description…but that would make for a relatively silly post.
The fact is, I attended maybe one or two baseball games before I turned 18. I’m not counting the one season I played Little League in Sour Lake, Texas, nor am I counting the various Little League games I attended at the Sour Lake ballpark, which was about 8 blocks straight down the road from my house in that rural community. I was attending the games as an excuse to ride my bicycle, to hang out with friends, and to snag the occasional foul ball and turn it in at the concession stand for a free snowcone.
I didn’t play very much baseball growing up for two reasons: 1) I’m chronically uncoordinated, and 2) my father is about as interested in sports as he is in the latest color of Paris Hilton’s toenails…which is somewhere between “not in the least” and “completely dis-(interested, that is).” The first time I ever got within 50 yards of my high school’s baseball field was some time after I’d graduated from college, was home for a visit, and was looking for a place to sit and down some cold ones with a couple of friends. Even then, we did not stay very long.
But, it is impossible to grow up in the United States and read a decent amount of American novels without finding myriad references to father-son bonding over a summer night radio ball game broadcasts, the breaking down of box scores, and nostalgic recollections of weekday evening games of catch in the front yard. I did not get it. These references seemed almost embarrassingly clichéd.
And then I hit college. A private school in New England with an emphatically Division III baseball program. I pledged a fraternity and found myself rooming with a guy who was absolutely fanatic about two things: baseball and architecture (he now works for an architecture firm that is internationally recognized as the leader in sports stadium design). He was a scrappy little guy — built to be, at best, a utility infielder who would get on base more with his brain than with his bat. As it turned out, he was the second fellow named Scott on the team. The other guy — an upperclassmen — was a contrast in physique. He had a presence sufficiently bulky that he had long since been assigned the moniker of “House.” It took the team about 15 seconds into the first practice of our freshman year to come up with a nickname for my roommate. The second Scott on the team was labeled “Shack.” And it stuck.
Shack was a good guy, and spring in Boston overflows with days when this college student from southeast Texas found himself itching to find an excuse to lounge around outdoors. Supporting my roommate — though he seldom played as a freshman — was the strongest excuse I could find. The seats at the “stadium” consisted of two sets of bleachers — both about 8 feet long, and one having two rows while the other had four. On more than one occasion, my arrival at a game increased the attendance by an infinite amount.
Over time, I convinced some of the other members of my fraternity to attend the games. We even went to several away games — shocking both the 10-20 home team fans, as well as the umpire, by our presence. I discovered that baseball was a great excuse for spending time outside with a purpose (albeit a rather artificial one). I knew almost nothing beyond the basic rules of the game at that point, and it wasn’t until some years later that I started to figure those out (which is a work still in progress).
I’ve rambled enough for now, and yet haven’t really scratched the surface. I’ll fill in the rest with future postings: Roger Angell (stepson of E.B. White), a five-year-old who surprised me by letting on that he had memorized an entire college team roster, that same kid’s experience *playing baseball, and his salmonella-pneumonia-abscess-walker-recuperation. And, yeah, I’ll probably throw in something about a tradition-in-the-making of traveling to the University of Texas season opener with a co-worker every season.