I sat with Mrs. Smiler watching the Spring Training exhibition between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at the City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, Florida. She decided earlier in the year to target a game in Fenway South a mere 200 miles from our home in Tampa. So we made the roadie.
I glanced about the park. There were many similarities to the vaunted cathedral on Yawkey Way sans a Green Monster and Fenway Franks. On the field, the BoSox played many of their front line guys while the Orioles had split their squad leaving their best troops, ironically, in Tampa for a night game against the Yankees. I was a bit disappointed since I’d come to see the Orioles but my wife got to see her guys and that did my heart good.
Surrounding me were cheery septuigents … rabid Red Sox faithful out for a lovely, South Florida spring day. Many of them gaped at me because I wore Dodger Blue … my Smiler Jersey that paid tribute to Cal Ripken, Jr. I thought my Brooklyn Cap with its Red Sox styled ‘B’ would be a disarming compromise. I wanted to be the only Dodger fan in attendance that day … a true, neutral, odd duck. Unfortunately, one of the people who shared the same third base box row as we did asked me:
‘Are you wearing the Duke’s jersey?’
‘Duke as in Snyder?’
‘Yeah. They said there was a guy with a Duke jersey roaming all over the park.’
‘No. Mine says the Smiler. That’s me.’
He sat down a bit disappointed. And I went back to watching the Red Sox pound the Orioles starter Chris Tillman like a rock giant squashing a one armed hobbit. I did not exactly mourn the recently deceased Duke. He was before my time and I only knew of him from the Terry Cashman song and Roger Kahn’s book ‘Boys of Summer.’ The book stayed in my mind the rest of the day. Probably because he brought the ghosts of Dodgers I would never meet to life with his stylish word craft. Every team should have as talented a writer to devote a ball club’s history to immortality. I wished that I could emulate that kind of writing in my fiction and non-fiction.
Elizabeth sat on the other side of my wife (both in the first picture above) fresh from the Red Sox minor league camp. For those of you living under a rock, Elizabeth keeps a tremendous chronicle at MLBlogs entitled: The Future Blog of the Boston Red Sox which features a heavy emphasis on “future”. She knows more about the nuances of the farm teams then perhaps most paid pro scouts. In fact, people in the row in front of us mistook her for a scout. Elizabeth took it all in stride continuing to take photos of her minor league interests and score their progress.
Serendipity brought us all together. Chance had it that Elizabeth was going to observe this game and camp practice for her Portland Sea Dog coverage and when I found out about it, I emailed her suggesting a rendezvous. It was a cool thing knowing she and my wife could rap about the Red Sox and I could rap with her about writing. I waited between innings when she was less busy. Roger Kahn was still on my mind … the hard knock Brooklyn guy who wanted to be a newspaperman. So did I once upon a time. And so did this intrepid youngster. I dared a question.
‘Elizabeth, have you read Roger Kahn’s: Boys of Summer?’
‘Not yet.’ She answered.
‘He brings a bit of poetry to his baseball writing craft that sets him apart from the white noise of the field. Sort of like Ray Bradbury brings to prose.’ I replied feeling like an old man with some kind of crazy need to give advice. I added ‘And I think you have that kind of talent. Keep at it.’ She does. She’s good.
Elizabeth thanked me. Then in addition to Red Sox banter, she and my wife struck up a conversation about how the City of Palms ballpark might be lacking in Cracker Jacks, but they more than made up for it with divine lemonade. They were right.
But I quietly continued to ponder the Duke, the Dodgers, Roger Kahn, and my own lack of devotion to the writing craft. The ball players were on the field against a back drop of competition in the minors that served as a type of white noise. All these guys had just enough talent or they would not be there. They needed to make their mark to stand out … to attain a shot in the Show and an even longer shot at being bronzed in Cooperstown.
You would think a writer would have it easier. You would think after 36 years of which two decades have been devoted to the holy craft of writing that I would be more disciplined. That I would go through the reps like the ball players were doing in practice and like Elizabeth did in her reporting. Instead, I was the Kansas City Royals … always rebuilding. Or, I was Grady Sizemore … talented by injury prone … my injury being an impairment of the creative muse. I sighed my discontent, apparently a bit too loudly.
‘Are you having a nice time?’ Mrs. Smiler asked, turning to me. ‘Are you having fun?’
‘Yeah, sure. I’m enjoying this game.’ I told her. ‘This has been a nice time.’
And it was. The Red Sox beat the Orioles with a walk off single that everyone in the park KNEW was going to happen. Moments later, Elizabeth made her farewells with my wife and me and we left with a new friendship. And on the ride home in the dying sunlight I kept thinking that despite my doubts and misgivings that I want to still be a writer when I grow up even if my prose never makes it to ‘The Bigs.’