Often, while watching the Tigers struggle theirway out of a slump atthe bottom of the 9th inning, I begin to see the game in a refreshingly abstract light. The baseball diamond changes to Stonehenge! l've got the sort of a mind that enjoys unusual contexts, and believe me it's a thrill when suddenly Lou Whitaker is batting at the Heel Stone, while the opposing pitcher dawdles nervously at the Altar Stone. Unless the bum walks him, Lou is likely to drive a stinger along the path of midwinter sunset towards Hanging Langford, if he doesn't foul it towards Coneybury Barrow or Gibbet Knoll. Translation: I love baseball and find it to be as timeless as a ring of ancient rocks in a circle. Weren't the Mayans the first to smack a rubber ball with a stick and chase each other about? In any case, compared to the other sporting fixations of our day, baseball remains for many of us a profound and substantial ritual. Anthony Braxton, nero of modern creative music, tells us that the ritual function is the highest function. And the ritual of baseball seems to me to be a profound and noble tradition, well worth a certain amount of our attention. I have a friend, poet and Jazzhead Mare Taras, who shows me baseball movies, some of which are strangely moving. If you want a f ootball movie what do you get? Ronald Reagan portraying the Gipper? No thanks. I mean it's a bad joke. Baseball movies have something so powerful and understated going on; the emotions are guywired at strange angles. Watching It Happens Every Spring I got all upset and paced about the room when the professor's miraculous pitching potion got used as hairtonic. It was almost more of a strain than The Lou Gehrig Story, which upset me mainly because Charles Mingus succumbed to the same degenerative condition. Seem ngly unrelated facets of life and death become intertwined - Jazz and Baseball, ritualistic rites of the human condition. My very favorite baseball story, which will probably never be made into a movie, comes from Ralph Berton's Remembering Bix, a delightful autobiographical account of life in Chicago in the 1 920s. Berton describes hanging out with Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines, a legendary Jazz band which flared briefly in the mid20s and then went out with a puff (leaving behind a handful of hot dance recordings which still sound rambunctious and inventive, and probably always will). Berton was understandably proud of his special encounters with Bix. He described with great relish: the reef ers and gin, the wonderfully loose sexuality and the all-night jam sessions which enhanced his extraordinary adolescence. Wild and often destructive habits abounded in a decade of breaking away from societal strictures. The baseball part of the story pops up out of nowhere, and it really would do well adapted to the cinema, if done rightly. You'd have to find the perfect guy to portray Bix Beiderbecke, as this was one singular individual. Imagine: precocious little Ralph Berton gets. home from school and heads for the empty lot where the neighborhood kids have their ball games. He encounters Bix who is still wearing a filthy, wrinkled band uniform from the night before, with cigarette ashes smeared down the sleeve, and a dangling collar. Bix says something like "Where ya goin', kid?" and on the spurof the moment decides to join the game. Parking his cornet in the crook of a tree, Bix removes his patent leather shoes and rolls up his pant legs. His hair is plastered down and parted in the middle. The kids jeer and cali him ñames. "Hey shoeless! Where'd ya get that suit?!" Ralph, of course, believes in Bix, who is his hero of héroes. (As much as he may have dolized Bix, Berton did notfollow Beiderbecke ' s su cidal drinking patterns, and lived to a ripe oíd age). The upshot of this tale is that Bix Beiderbecke was a fairiy adept pitcher and a formidable hitter! The combination of Jazz icon and surprisingly able baseball participant is an rresistable one for my tastes. It's the American dream - as dreamy as Hoagy Carmichael and Bix Beiderbecke laying on the carpet, stoned out together listening to Stravinsky's Firebird. So l'm talking about being an American, but also about being human. And I wonder what kind of a human a young person is supposed to aspire towards becom ing. What sort of an adult to emulate orsurpass. Like it ornot, when you're coming up, you tend to follow the example of someone a bit olderthan yourself. Sports héroes seem to be incredibly influential for many of our young folks. Everybody's watching, especially the kids. There's the money thing, and the glamour, and yes, getting laid. And what a turnaround for our society when Magie Johnson got the virus as a direct resutt of his sexual prowess. Recently the ones who care about football have to face O.J. Simpson's short-circuited behavior pattems regarding women as partners in life. Ordeath as the case may be. Nobody seems to be emphasizing clearly enough that Violence Is Not Cool. Mymain objection to what are called "contact sports" is the violence so constantly leamed through these heated rituals. High School kids knifing each other after basketball games. Because one of the two teams had to lose. In baseball, at least, if a fight breaks out they've probably been thinking about it for a good long while. If hockey players failed to pitch a brawl, the fans would most likely demand their money back. And there's the obsession with scores. There are some who wam that this constant scorekeeping isdistracting our peoplefrom otherthings: politics, relevant as can be, and the arts, which are in danger of being ignored to death. Personally I don't give a rip if the Tigers win more games than the Cubs. I like it when the Tigers win. Any Tigers fan likes that. But what Ireally like is seeing Good Baseball. The Atlanta Braves play good baseball. The reason I don't like them very much is their embarassing and insulting fans with the war chant and the red foam tomahawks. That just pisses me off and I don't care how good they are, I want 'em to lose. Which is trite perhaps, but it's a good position for a Tigers fan to be in. Who cares if "We 're Number One"? That's a storm trooper line and Iresent hearing i t. Nobody 's number one. Ever. Everybody is in this together, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for teaching young people to think and act along those lines. Teach 'em how to work together. Mare Taras, the same fellow who shows me baseball movies, is partly responsible for a wonderful little league, and takes me to watch them work. PJ's Records, and the Subway shop located directly below them, have invested in a baseball team made up of 11 - and 1 2-year-olds. They're called the PJ'sSubway Phillies and they play some tremendously good baseball on a regular basis. Out by the dusty diamond with my shades on, I am impressed not merely with their skill, their i resiliency - the ability totake aflying leap, land on their heads, get up and keep running - but especially with the ethics which coach Ken Bratton has been demonstrating and encouraging them to adopt They take the game seriously and their concentration is admirable. Striking out is a drag, and winning feels good. But there's an attitude of nobility that is so handsome and hopeful in a young person. It is distinctly contrasted when one of the dads from the other team, or their manager, for pete's sake, starts throwing a tantrum over one of the calis. Tuming beet red, throwing his hat on the ground, screaming "No Wayü!" I teil ya it's embarassing. That's not what they're here to leam. The best part of the game f orthis baseball watcher is when it's over and the teams line up in single file, slapping hands with each and every member of the opposite team, as if to say: Well done. We're in this together. And each does as best he can.
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