Roger Clemens, cartoonishly bloated, pitched a pro ball game in Texas this weekend. ESPN’s broadcasters, reduced to children, hawked it: 5o years old! … One of the greatest pitchers of all time! He came out sharp. The fans erupted.
In New Hampshire, a world away, I sat in a minor league ballpark watching Roger’s kid, Koby, chase his own dreams. He’s in his mid-twenties, dangerously old for AA ball, two enormous steps below the majors. Some solid hitting of late has pushed his batting average above .200.
Late in the game — maybe the top of the seventh — a New Hampshire pitcher fired a fastball over 90 mph. Even Roger, The Rocket, can’t pump it like that anymore. The right-handed batter pounced on it late, sending a screamer toward the stands on the first base side. There, about ten rows behind the dugout, sweat-soaked toddlers stood, weaving through their parents’ legs.
Before even vigilant parents could budge, the ball slammed into a chair right in front of them. It fell harmlessly. Eight inches higher, and you’d be waking up to the news today, all over the country, of tragedy — a family’s, and a minor league hitter’s, unspeakable grief. After we caught our breath, distraction naturally returned. The cotton candy, the goofy mascots, the trippy organ music, the American chauvinism.
It has become common, even a cliché, to talk about ballparks as sacred space — cultural spaces of memory, freedom, solidarity, and euphoria. As I age, it’s getting harder and harder not to see them as spaces of delusion.
But at the end of the game, I still somehow felt boyish too, witnessing the unimaginable: a visiting team’s game-tying grand slam in the top of the ninth. Then the home team rallied, scoring the winning run on a soaring fly to left that barely eluded the sprinting outfielder’s reach. 8-7 New Hampshire. It sent us all into hysterics. It sent us all home happy.
Photograph by the author.