It’s spring, which means boat shoes, housing drama, society tap nights, salmon shorts, ill-fated attempts to aerate the grass, a reprieve from seasonal affective disorder and, alas, baseball.
March Madness is now behind us, with Virginia and Baylor crowned as the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament champions this week, respectively. In truth, my bracket was busted well before that, and I had already moved on. With the first hint of sunshine comes the inescapable lure of well-trimmed grass and well-creased leather. The stereotypical suburban boy who idolizes Derek Jeter and has only ever had one baseball glove? That’s me.
Opening day is a moment of infinite possibility. Batting averages soar to 0.500. Your favorite player is on track for 80 home runs. You rediscover the beauty of box scores. When the Yankees started their season on the West Coast one year, past my bedtime, my mom woke me up in the morning with the score. That game meant 161 more games after it, and nothing else mattered. As sportswriter George Vecsey said, “There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating the forces of darkness and the National Football League.”
But this year’s opening day was a bit darker than usual. While the Major League Baseball season started without a snag, the equally important intramural softball season was over before it began. Canceled, kiboshed, killed, caput.
To be sure, the intramural program’s decision to cancel the softball season was eminently rational and reasonable. 26 out of 31 games ended in a forfeit last spring. On 10 of those occasions, neither college fielded a team. Four more games were cancelled due to rain. And Silliman reached the intramural finals without playing a single regular season game. (The Good Life indeed — looking at you, Laurie Santos.) None of this reflects well on Yale students or the state of intramurals in general. But that’s a problem for another day.
Let’s set aside rationality for the moment. The handful of intramural softball games I played in last year were, with only modest exaggeration, among the highlights of my Yale experience to date.
Intramural softball was exactly what you would expect: messy. The diamond was muddy; the “umpire” called balls and strikes from behind the mound with a whistle, and someone had to explain to him what a force-out was. The field had no fence; the backstop was rusted; the grip on the bat was worn. We were suddenly nine again, calling out “good eye” and “good cut” in the rhythmic dugout chatter of the halcyon days of Little League.
We loaded the bus from Payne Whitney with hats and gloves and bats and the understanding that this was a grand waste of time. Although part of the reason that the IM leadership chose to nix the sport came from softball’s relatively high level of difficulty — compared to, shall we say, broomball — our team included some brave souls who had never even swung a bat; they were quickly making contact. Anything was possible. Heck, even this columnist — whose arm was never quite good enough to play shortstop — found himself on the mound. (I am still beating myself up for conceding a walk that, inevitably, extended the inning that forever ruined my ERA.)
For a brief moment, the stresses of Yale melted into the background. It was opening day: running the bases, warming up in the infield, vying for the privilege of coaching third base. This is the feeling we all have on these first warm days, whether or not we get anywhere near a baseball field. It’s the feeling of the sun creeping over East Rock and resting on your back as you read on Cross Campus; it’s the feeling of summer inching towards us; the feeling that life really is how it looks on college brochures. We all have opening-day optimism running through our bloodstreams.
Now Yale’s muddy intramural diamond is abandoned, conquered by rationality and indifference. Meanwhile, every day seems to bring a new injury for my favored Yankees. We had that sleet storm last week in the midst of the warm weather. And however much Yale spends trying to make grass grow here, we all seem unconcerned trampling the dirt between Hopper and Harkness Hall. Opening day has passed us by; our gloves gather dust in our closets, tucked next to memories of misplayed fly balls and bases-clearing triples.
All I’m left with is the mantra popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers fans, juggling resignation with unwarranted optimism: Wait till next year.
Steven Rome | firstname.lastname@example.org