“It breaks your heart. It was designed to break your heart.”
That’s the opening of Bart Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind.” It’s an essay about the end of the season that talks about how baseball promises to suspend time, and how every year you believe it can, only to have it betray you.
“You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
God, it’s beautiful. Each night this season there was a game on, and I’d watch a few innings. Each morning I could see the standings and watch the highlights. Each day’s drive was the Baseball Tonight podcast and Talkin’ Yanks. And through it all was Jack. The texts between us were so magic.
My favorite came in the summer. I was camping in Utah and out of cell range. When I came back to civilization, I got this:
Going to ballparks started early this season and never slowed down. We started with a trip to Spring Training where Jack and the lady behind the counter badgered me into upgrading to a corvette.
“I’m sorry. And you’re welcome,” Jack said when I finally caved.
In April we shot down to Baltimore to see the Yankees pummel the Orioles. Jack got Aaron Judge’s autograph before the game, and then for the length of all 9 innings, everything in the world was perfect. The usher let us go down into the field-level seats. Everyone sitting near us was friendly and in a great mood. I could feel the baseball smiling down on me like sunshine.
In July we had our sights set on an overnight flight to finally make it to Wrigley. Shani and Alex were at a dive meet in California, so the timing was perfect. But flights to Chicago were crazy expensive. So we drove instead, orchestrating a 3-day/3-ballpark road trip.
Detroit…The sunset lit the entire sky into an electric yellow glow and Jack stared out at the park the way that only Jack can stare out at a ballpark.
Chicago…Finally we made it to Wrigley and it not only lived up to the hype, it shattered expectations. That park and those people and that game all nestled into the hot, dense streets of the city.
Cleveland…Chomping mustard-smeared bratwurst while we watched the game under the shade of the right field wall.
In Detroit, a 4-time survivor of breast cancer sang the National Anthem. In Chicago, a shrunken WWII vet blared the anthem out on a trumpet. Then in Cleveland, a 12-year-old girl sang the anthem in that pure and clear voice that only 12-year-olds have. And at some point in there, I felt a stir of pride that I haven’t felt in 2+ years.
But the coup de grace came at the end of the season. It was late September, and I figured we were done. Then I got this text…
From minute one I knew what he wanted, and I knew I’d say yes. Playoff tickets to Yankee Stadium.
I watched ticket prices climb and dip until one morning the exact seats I wanted were $130 each. I hesitated, running late for a meeting with my boss, and decided to buy them as soon as my meeting was over.
I got laid off at that meeting.
Dazed, I staggered back to my office, sat down at my desk, took out my phone, and bought the tickets – full on planning to tell my wife I’d bought them before I got laid off.
The playoff game was a full-throated, red-in-the-face, 4-hour roar – as if we believed we could make the Yankees win with our voices. Every pitch, every swing, every out, every everything we howled with all our might until the struggling Did Gregorious came up with the bases loaded and slapped a home run over the right field wall to put the game out of reach.
From there the Yanks moved on to the unbeatable Astros who we beat in game 1. Then lost the next three in a row. All hope was lost, but the Yanks still won Game 5. Then they spent Game 6 behind by two runs until the 9th inning…the 9th inning…DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run homer to tie the game and Jack and I went ballistic! We woke up the entire house and I got a fat lip against his chin as we jump-hugged.
But just like that, Jose Altuve responded with a walk off home run and just like that it was over. This Yankee team I’d loved more than any team ever before. This team that battled through injuries and picked each other up and were such epic wonderful fun all season…this team that felt magic and charmed and 200% inevitable…
It broke my heart.
I didn’t watch any of the World Series until it went to Game 7, which is holy. Jack and I watched in the basement, often on our phones and not talking much. I think both of us couldn’t help but wondering what it would have been like if the Yankees had been in the game.
Then yesterday the Baseball Tonight podcast ended their season the way they always do, by playing “The Green Fields of the Mind.” And I did what I always do, I listened in the car and cried. Another season was over.
Some concluding thoughts…
- The job search is going well. I’ve got a freelance assignment through the rest of the year and I have some promising leads that I think will soon turn into actual job offers.
- Next season will be the last one that Jack and I will experience together. 2020 will be his senior year. 2020 is it.
- We are plotting games for next season already. Boston with my Aunt Joan. Seattle as part of a family vacation to the Northwest. And I’m sure some Yankees games will get in there.
- And finally, let there be no mistake about it, if the Yankees win the World Series next year, I am streaking. Immediately. Prepare yourselves now.
So here’s to an amazing season – possibly my favorite ever. And even still, it broke my heart.
Here is the “Green Field of the Mind;” You should listen.