Homecomings, and Magic in the Bronx

When I first set out to write this post, on Monday evening, I was determined to chronicle our
wonderful trip back to Hamilton last weekend for our first alumni Fallcoming. Nick, Sam, Amanda, and I all loaded into my blue Volvo station wagon on a rainy Thursday night, drove upstate through the fog (thanks to Sam, the only legally licensed driver in our lot, since I lost mine on a bus in August and now must use my passport for identification!), and spent the most wonderful weekend in recent memory wandering around campus, eating cider donuts, and generally basking in the sunshine and autumn colors. Peter and I had breakfast and discussed the events of the first two volumes, and Nora and I met our beloved college mother Sharon for
peanut avocado sushi. Nick’s house, where we stayed, was absolutely wonderful, and I came back to Manhattan on Sunday night in a state of utter contentment. It will be the perfect connection, I thought. Proust and nostalgia and the idea that you can go home again, no matter how much life may have changed in the interim. While I fully intend to give due consideration to this thought, however, there is something else that has since taken precedence, occupied a good part of my waking (and even sleeping!) thoughts, and kept half the East Coast up until midnight, sitting on the edges of their couches or else crowding into bars, breath held in that giddy lurch of anticipation which only one thing can incur. I am talking, of course, about Baseball.

For those of you who have been living under a literary rock for the past week, let me put an end to your ignorance and inform you that the Baltimore Orioles have made it to the American League Division Championships for the first time since 1997, that they are playing the New York Yankees in a five-game series that started Sunday evening and ends tonight, that if, by some miraculous chance, we should happen to make it to (and win!) the World Series, it will be the first time since 1983, and that the culmination of these factors is nothing short of magic.

I am hardly a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, and the fact that I have been following this series so feverishly that I have had to cancel on Liza for dinner three nights in a row now, and spent my walk back home from Nick and Sam’s apartment last night ducking into three separate sports bars so as not to miss a run has surprised many of my friends. But there is something about baseball, about those lazy summer afternoons spent drinking (gluten-free!) beer and eating peanuts under a blazing sky, talking to fans around as the crack of a wooden bat meeting a leather ball rings through the grassy field, that makes it different, brings out a fanaticism in me I did not know I possessed.

From the time I was born (and even, my parents hold, the year before I was born!) to the year I went to college, I did not miss a single Orioles opening day game. Every year I would tell my elementary school teachers that I had a doctor’s appointment or was not feeling well, bring my orange-and-black coat to school, and wait in the principal’s office for my father, who would come pick me up, grinning and joking with my teachers about how sick I was, before whisking me off to Camden Yards. We would buy our hot dogs and beverages outside, my parents refusing to pay ballpark prices, and sometimes we would get a scorecard as well, and my dad would spend the first three innings explaining how a forwards K meant struck out swinging and a backwards K, struck out looking. There was a crazy lemonade man called “Shakey,” who would run around manically shaking and mixing your drink while fans laughed and catcalled at him. Every year I would inevitably become distracted, wander through the stadium, buy a pin to add to my O’s jacket. Every year my dad would talk about the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, how every team waited for their “Next Year.” And every year we would lose at the end of the season, turn in our Orange uniforms, and promise to do better the next time. Next Year, it seemed, was a long way away.

I went to college and the opening days had to stop. I broke my record to stay in Clinton, New York, and later Paris, and I have not been back to a ballgame with my Dad since I was eighteen. The Orioles have somehow, miraculously, churned through the season in first place or just below and, after winning the wildcard championships last week, qualified for the ALDS against the Yankees, our mortal enemies. I started receiving texts from my mother at midnight saying things like “we just need to hold on!” and “my stomach acid is profound!”, and as my Dad, brother, and sister got into the fever of the game, I, too, started watching. As much as New York has very much become my home, a place with which I identify more than any other, this past week I have felt like a soldier in enemy territory, glaring at all of the Yankee caps and blue jackets out of the corner of my eye, wearing black and the forbidden orange I promised Nick I would never wear, proud of my city as I have never been before.

On Wednesday night, my Dad sent me two tickets to go see game three of the playoffs, and Sam and I boarded a vintage MTA train from Grand Central and spent an exhilarating four hours in Yankee Stadium, me cheering like a maniac and Sam trying to prevent me from getting beaten up! When I mentioned that neither team was his (Sam grew up in New Hampshire and is therefore a Red Sox fan), he responded, “ABY, baby. Anyone but the Yankees.” And I understood instantly. We lost that night at the bottom of the twelfth inning, but made friends with a man sitting next to Sam who was a retired pitcher for the Florida Marlins, and left at nearly midnight, giddy with anticipation of the next game.

Tonight, after having somehow made it to the final game of the series, the Orioles are up again in the Bronx, and my dad is flying up from a work conference in Miami to meet me at the game. I cannot say if our magic will continue, cannot predict any sort of marvelous victory. But I can tell you, because I have spent this past week sleep-deprived and starry-eyed, living for the breathless gasp of a double play and praying for Jason Hammel’s arm, because I have not felt this way since I was ten years old, wrapped in a polyester orange jacket and boarding the Light Rail to Camden Yards, because tonight I will be at an Orioles playoff game with my Dad, I can tell you that there is something about October, and something about baseball, that makes you want to believe.

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