The Tincaps season came to a shattering end Monday night when their arch-rivals, the Silver Hawks of South Bend, spoiled their bid for a return trip to the Midwest League Championship series. Even if losing to the dreaded dirty birds was particularly hard to stomach, there is no crying in baseball, as any fan knows. And there is certainly no shame in having made it to the second round of the play-offs. So we’ll get ’em next year, Tincaps! Or something like that.
Baseball has always been my game for myriad reasons. For one, it was one the few sports I was relatively good at. And it has always appealed to my sensibility as both something of an archivist and historian by nature, dating back to the mid 19th Century in an organized, recorded form, and earlier, less formally. I like the statistics and arcane trivia that goes along with all that. And it has always seemed to me, too, that baseball players were the “working men” of sports, playing nearly every day, whereas the other major sports are played merely three times or even just once a week. Baseball has long been the soundtrack to my springs and summers.
When the Tincaps moved downtown five seasons ago, I was slow in getting started. I was among the fools who argued that the Wizards were perfectly fine where they were, and I crudely confess that I snubbed the Tincaps in their new stadium for a while. I went to a handful of games the first couple seasons. And then, three seasons ago, I began to understand why the community has embraced the Tincaps of Parkview Field more than it ever did Wizards at Memorial Stadium. There is a sparkle to the field, a glimmer to the lights and an ineffable magic in the air at Parkview that wasn’t as perceptible at Memorial Stadium — at least, not by me.
Two seasons ago, I went to about 15 games. Last season, I went to 25, erasing all doubt that I had arrived at fan status. And this season, I made 39, including 24 wins, 15 losses, a double-header, two baseballs retrieved (one foul, and one thrown into the stands by a player), and lots of fun.
Undoubtedly, my highlight of the season came on the first of September, my birthday. I was part of a small group of library employees set up on the concourse to do some PR work — sign people up for cards, and distribute pencils and goodwill to the fine people of the community. Our director was slated to throw out the first pitch, but when we found out that he wasn’t able to make it, it was decided I would make a relief appearance.
A pretty young woman who I had seen making announcements on the scoreboard screen many times brought me down to the field, and I waited for several minutes, amped up and a little nervous. When, at length, they called my name, I stepped on the field of dreams, and took it all in. I walked quickly, tingling and alive with every step, and took the ball from a gent who I have seen making announcements and conducting interviews (and dancing, as the lead Bad Apple Dancer) many times. I looked at the catcher and the crowd, caressed the baseball and wished I could freeze the moment, if just for a little while. I heard a couple people shouting my name. Then, my focus shifted, and that all became like radio static — the faces, the voices. All I wanted to do was throw a strike, or, at least throw it over the plate without bouncing it short, or throwing it over the catcher’s head. I wound up, released the ball and watched it sail into the catcher’s mitt. Then, suddenly, as quickly as I had thrown it, I was marching off the field.
I got to keep the ball, and I got to meet Brian Adams, an outfielder, over in foul ground. I returned to my colleagues with my adrenaline in high gear, and one of my colleagues remarked later that I remained keyed up until the 9th inning.
Nearly a week later, with the season winding down at last Saturday’s game, I took a lap around the concourse and reflected that it may be the last time I was doing so in the 2013 season. And it was. But there is no crying in baseball. If you ask me, though, a few misty eyes are OK, as long as you cover up by saying you were fielding pop-ups in the sun.