Locked in my room and shackled to my flimsy desk, I can spin around on the slippery surface of a thrift-shop chair and gaze into the endless blankness of an unpainted ceiling. White, White, White; that’s all I can view with a range of sight muddled by ounces of coffee drank in the early morning light. I found myself here late last night at the onset of the dawn, the sun shimmering an orange-ish hue across a dusty window in the kitchen. I carried around a musty book in one hand and a laptop in my other, pacing about the dusty floors of my apartment building searching for any fleeting sliver of motivation and creativity.
Maybe it was the coffee, or the magical mystery of a brain drunk on caffeine, but something happened within the hours of 2 and 7am. Or maybe something happened to me this weekend, in between trips to the heart of the city and stargazing walks alongside the Lake Michigan waterfront. My heart simultaneously stuttered and fluttered as my weekend progressed, and between the hours of 2 and 7 I leaned against the mantle of my fireplace and placed everything into perspective.
My hand made its way across my shelf and stumbled upon the leathery complexion of a braided object caught within a stack of books. Rounded, rough. I turned my head towards the object and saw clear-view what I had in my hand: my baseball mitt.
Various places of my bookshelf have become a sort of graveyard for parts of my life that survive only in the past; Harry Potter books ragged from years of reading at Idaho campfires and poolside escapes, a 1940’s era electric radio swinging with a tune from a long-gone era, basketball cards from a team that moved for the browner pastures of Oklahoma. Yet here’s this object, an object that somehow transcends the different periods of my life unlike anything else.
I lean against the wooden mantle-place, with the glove nestled warmly around my left hand. I can take a sniff of the leather of the glove, and for anyone who’s ever played the game you know the smell all to well. The casual observer smells the mitt and only senses the rough leather hide piercing his or her nose, but for me it’s different.
I dive my nose into the mitt and smell the fresh-cut grass in the outfield on a spring afternoon, the sweat pouring from the bodies of teenage men huddled closely on a wooden bench in the dog days of summer, the dirt in the infield that rises with a slide into second, maybe even that unforgettable concoction of sunflower seeds and tobacco chew littered about the dusty cement of the dugout floor. It’s all there, in the swift sniff of a glove that hasn’t tasted the smack of a baseball for years.
How can you smell the freedom of a childhood’s summer spent on sparkling baseball diamonds while standing outside a winter that grips your soul with each of its icy fingers? I can only smell the glove, dust off the dirt that has found hidden crevices in the ripped webbing of the leather fingertips, and pound the palm with my fist as I did during those long innings out in center field.
I put down my book and laptop and paced my apartment with glove in hand for over and hour. I sipped coffee slowly from a worn Pink Floyd cup at a $1 unpainted chair by the window, peering out from the top of my mitt like I did years ago on dozens of different pitching mounds. Though here, I cannot read the eyes of the batter, no mind games can be played while staring down an ounce of cheap coffee.
Here’s the windup, and the pitch…..
Whenever I attend a baseball game with friends who don’t see the sport through the same lens that I do, I instinctively serenade them with a lovey-dovey synopsis on how Baseball captures the essence of life in nine innings of drama and excitement. Some people are pitchers, some are catchers, some are ball-boys who carry bats for their career just out of a desire to walk with the giants. All of my sayings on the philosophical underpinnings of baseball are only half truths; more than anything, I love the game because some part of me is still flailing his skinny legs awkwardly on a dirt mound in the rural part of Washington.
For years, whenever I placed the comforting texture of the glove against my face, I was thinking merely about the present; what am I going to throw this guy? Maybe I should give this sucker a fastball at the face… some welcoming chin music? Wow, that girl on the bleachers is attractive. The thoughts of an angsty teenager were unbounded, and these were only a few of many.
Now when I smell the leather of a black glove retired from the reason of its existence, I think much differently. How the hell am I going to complete this project on time? How can a mere stranger at first glance melt you with her eyes? What will people years from now read about my life? No longer do I entertain the daily thoughts of a pitcher primed for a duel, but rather an individual longing for purpose. I no longer duel with the batter, but instead I pitch daily to the restless batter that is life, dancing about in an uneven batters box.
Maybe I’m discovering a new philosophical off branch that scholars can employ for generations to come; some have their philosopher king, maybe Michael Rance has his pitcher king. Maybe a moral purpose doesn’t come from the graces of a higher power, but the memories implanted in a young boy who grew of age on the muddy infields of a Western Washington baseball diamond. Maybe the new hipster trend will be skinny millennials in sweater vests with their faces buried in baseball gloves at cafes. Let posterity know that I did it before it was cool.
As I lay dying in the midst of finals week and the stresses that studying galore brings, I’ll be carrying my glove around with me and taking solace in the smell of a world that’s a far cry from my new home. I’ll look outside a window of white and grey and see a diamond of green where skyscrapers tower. I’ll trade a classroom for the musty dugouts of yore, where a bunch of young boys traded dirty jokes like holier children traded baseball cards. I’ll grip my fingers around an ungreased baseball, forming a 4-seam fastball with that sort of instinctive grasp of a baseball player who isn’t quite removed from his childhood.
I won’t be carrying it along with me as I trudge from class to class, but it’ll be there with me. I’ll approach each test and project like Cy Young would a batter in the golden years of the game; persistent, resilient, and with a nasty curve. Only time will tell if these final weeks of the quarter will be a home-run, or a strike out.