I had a long attraction to American football while growing up in New Wilmington, a scene of small town America equivalent to the stories that inspire Remember The Titans screenplays. On Fridays, girlfriends would sport their player's jersey, a polyester symbol of their affection; Cheerleaders and band front members would be kitted out in navy and gold, carrying around inspirational quotes, balloons and streamers to adorn the players' lockers before homeroom; English and History teachers would wear dog bone earrings and yellow oversized sweaters. Football fridays were everything; the friday night lights could be seen from every corner of town, the Western stars of familiar comfort and community. But long before I became a faithful Greyhound cheering from the Band section for four years, and long before I discovered that rugby might just be my favorite sport to see live, baseball was my first love. The smell of leather still reminds me of my first softball glove, freshly oiled and engraved with my initials so I'd never lose track of it. My brother and I would spend lazy nights tossing the ball back and forth, working on our long throws for our respective third base and short stop positions. . .the pitchback gathering rust over its 4 months of use. The best Saturday afternoons were spent at Dunham's looking for a Lousiville Slugger and stopping on our way home at Coney Island for cherry soda and chili cheese dogs. Ah, early-summer bliss.
My mum packaged happiness in a cooler when we went to Three Rivers Stadium: Twizzlers, gummy worms, Capri Sun, Crackerjacks and peanuts. You could never go wrong with Twizzlers. A picture of me, Derek, Matt and Travis still hangs in my room in remembrance of the old stadium and those late night drives that ended with my Dad carrying me into the house after falling into a sugared sport coma in the car.
Even now the pace of baseball slows down the world for a little while. For 9 innings, all that matters is hearing the crack of a bat celebrated with organ music. Baseball transports us back in time to a simpler America, when going to the ballgame on a Sunday afternoon in the 1920s was like a trip to Disney World in the 2000s. Baseball reminds us of the importance of family, friends, spirit and traditions. It is America's favorite past time after all.