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