The saddest moment of the baseball season for me, is when the calendar says, just one week left in the season.
All the promise of the spring, all the plans for the summer, all the hopes for the fall, have now come down to just a handful of sunsets. The final week. If your team is in still in competition and chasing that Division title of wildcard spot, it’s exciting and nerve-wracking. Fun, but crazy nerves. If your team has clinched, it’s all about rest and getting the rotation set for the playoffs. And keeping the edge sharp so you don’t get rusty.
But if your team, like most teams, is out of it, it’s just a few sunsets of delicious baseball morsels. Sometimes, that final game can capture a whole season and make it seem like the most glorious ever. Most of the time, it just fades away. The sun setting behind the hills that surround your city and it’s jewel encrusted diamond.
Let’s face it, it sucks.
And yet there is always that glimmer of hope. That knowing that the day after the season ends, the sun will rise. Spring will come again. And sooner than you can imagine, baseball will be back, with hope and glory.
Unless, for some strange, unthinkable reason, it won’t be.
Back in the late summer of 2012, the world was agog with the Mayan apocalypse. I really wasn’t worried about it, my mind is logical enough to recognize the farce that the whole thing was, but there was one moment, a single thought, that actually did put the fear of the final sunset into my brain. What if it does happen and there is no more baseball?
The dreaded day came and went, and it turned out that either the Mayans were trolling us or the “experts” weren’t. The sun came up, and baseball came back.
But still… what if… it didn’t?
Last night, in Bakersfield, California, a charter member of the California League and home of the worlds oldest stadium (I’m kidding, it just seems that way), the sun set behind the center field wall (one of only two parks in America where it does so) as it has every baseball day since 1941.
For the last regular season time. As far as the baseball gods are concerned, historic Sam Lynn Ballpark, a fixture on Chester Street in Bakersfield since 1941, is gone.
Yes, there will be at least one and hopefully more playoff games this season, but the Ballpark is finished as the home of a regular season team. After 75 seasons of good, and let’s face it, some really bad, baseball teams, the Bakersfield sun set for the final time. Minor League Baseball has decided to move on elsewhere and for the first time in the better part of a century, Bakersfield will not see the sun rise on a new season.
Historic Sam Lynn has a special place for me. It was where Ben went to his first game ever, when the Ports visited and on a magical night my favorite player, Dusty Napoleon had a night for the season. Other visits through the years would be made with family, including an 18 inning game which I had to leave after nine because Ben was done. By the time I got to my parents place in Tehachapi, the game was still going. And yes, the team did launch the fireworks after it ended.
My mother still reminds me of the time we went to Sam Lynn and she got nearly devoured by fleas. The visiting press box was a tiny closet, where for four years the air conditioning didn’t work. At all.
And yet, as the sun set for the final time, it wasn’t the bad that came to mind. It was the beauty of uniqueness. Of special people and memories of laughter and fun. Of a Newcastle Brown Ale shared in the press closet sized box. Of standing on the bleachers down the left field line and cheering alone for my favorite player. Of seeing my son for the first time see a baseball field.
Of sunsets. And of knowing that the sun has set for the final time on a venerated and beloved place, that will never again see the sun come up on a new season.
Adieu, historic Sam Lynn Ballpark.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
- Pain, by Khalil Gibran
So I cannot go to the game tonight. Which is, of course, disappointing. At the same time, this has been a great first week of the 2016 MLB season, having watched more games these past few days than I have since 1985, when USS Michigan went to 12 hour shift work and Bob Langworthy and I went to all five of the first six Mariners games that season. By the way they opened the season 6-0. Probably because of our attention.
Tonight opens the MiLB season, with the Ports hosting the Nuts and the Rainiers hosting Albuquerque. We didn’t get moved to Tacoma because of my knee replacement surgery, and that same surgery has me sidelined and unable to attend the Ports game. Actually could probably sit there are watch but folding myself into the car is basically the most difficult thing in the world to do right now. So a 15 mile drive to the stadium would pretty much kill me right now.
The Rainiers have a solid roster this year, with one of my favorite recent Ports, Boog Powell, roaming centerfield and with a decent chance of moving up to the Mariners this year.
The Ports have a roster of names I will get to know again, some of them highly touted prospects some of them not so much but all with the promise of a new seasons start in what is – outside of the Majors – the most competitive level of baseball.
I heard someone say last week that AAA Baseball is the “most bitter” level for players. Either they are so close or trying so hard to stay up that the whole AAA is a seething mass of players who all think that they should be in the majors. Attitude goes a long way in baseball, and I think that sometimes you really can see that in AAA.
In High A Ball, I’ve come to see it as really the “make or break” level. If you don’t succeed at High-A there’s not much point in sending you to AA. Going back down to Low-A can be beneficial in some cases, but you can really see that pressure on the players and the pressure they put on themselves too. It makes for some o the most intense and competitive baseball I’ve seen. And given that “winning” isn’t supposedly “the goal” in A ball, but rather player development, it magnifies each and every play, if not every pitch as saying, “Look at me, I am going to make it!”
So here’s to a new season of the grand old game, Majors, Minors and every other level there is. We’re all but guaranteed to see something we’ve never seen before. We’ll cheer the highlights, have great moments, and in the end, for most of us, the game will break our hearts, as Bart Giamati once said. But in any case, it always comes back with promise.
And a new season.
So I found this on eBay for $30 and free shipping. A 1979 Willie Horton throwback authentic.
Oh what times those were for the M’s! Terrible teams, but awesome double knit unis!
1979 was an all but forgettable 67-95 season. But the M’s finished ahead of the woeful A’s and had a few moments here and there including hosting the All-Star Game that year.
But those Unis! I still love the 1980’s set, from about 1982 through 1986, before the switch to the more traditional button downs, the horrific Circle M logo and the “S” on the cap. I always loved the Trident, not just because I was a TRIDENT Missile Fire Control guy, but because I felt like it was just a really awesome logo.
1979 was also the year Willie Horton, the great Tigers player for so many years came to Seattle and had decent but not great seasons in 79 and 80.
It was also a year before I really became aware of the M’s and the American League in general. I spent the summer of 1980 in the Seattle area, and there were opportunities to attend games that I did not take, but I did hear them on the radio for the first time and like most people, I fell in love with the way Dave Niehaus called the game. That team was even worse than the 79 Team, losing 103 games which seems all but impossible to do unless you are trying to accomplish it. Wayne Cody used to pop champagne whenever the 100 loss happened. He was probably drunk a lot in those days.
One good thing that happened to the M’s in 1979 that was a positive though, saw them draft a shortstop out of Pensacola by the name of Jim Presley. He would go on to hit the most amazing Home Run I ever saw in 1988 in Baltimore. He played six solid years, including one as an All-Star and MVP Candidate (1986) in Seattle and remains one of my all time favorites.
In the 17th Round that season they also drafted a crafty left hander named Bud Black. He would appear in just two games for Seattle in 1981, before going on to his long and famous career with the Royals, Indians and Giants as well as becoming a manager of some repute.
Even in the worst of seasons, there can be a positive thing or two!