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When ballpark memories ferment

Recovering recollections one baseball game at a time

Wild Card Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game Two Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Aug. 3, 2018

I parked in the lot across the street from the cemetery. The old branches that arch over the tombstones and the gravel pathway cast fractal shadows as I walked to the stadium, turning right on to 9th St, then left onto Eagle Avenue and the stadium plaza. It’s always tricky here — the flow of the crowd is turbulent as groups dart across and individuals dive back from the gates. I navigated against this current to the furthest-right gate, waited in line, and entered Progressive Field from above center field.

The view is a bit blocked by the Fox Sports Ohio booth, but it’s easy to get a great look from above the bullpens, Heritage Park, or anywhere around the concourse, really. That’s something that I love about Progressive Field: It is very easy to see the action from anywhere in the stadium. This is not at all true of either major league stadium I visited while in Chicago, though “Guaranteed Rate Field” is much better than Wrigley.

I made a lap around the stadium, swooping under the bleachers and then through the home run plaza toward home plate itself. One of the better concessions stands is here in the left-field corner (cheese fries with bacon!) along with Pierre’s, the ice cream shop into which I’ve always wanted to see someone launch a home run.

My seats were along the right-field line, about level in depth with where the average fielder plays out there. I love these seats — you don’t have to get up and move before watching post-game fireworks. It’s also directly in front of Momocho’s. And Market Garden. And look, the food and drinks really are fantastic at the stadium. One of my rituals at any Indians game was grabbing a (tall) White Rajah on the way to my seat.

Hunkered down with a beer in my hand I’d take that first sip after I’m really good and settled in. I’d float along on the cadence and pitch of sounds identical to those heard in any sandlot. On a warm summer day — and it was — that’s as good as cuddling up to a childhood puppy.

Mike Clevinger started against the Los Angeles Angels. For my part, I was just excited to see Mike Trout play in person for the first time. Was I dismayed to learn that he wouldn’t be starting? Sure, but I’d have a chance to see him again on Sunday. Even without Trout the game rocked. Shohei Ohtani went deep twice, but even more impressive — he turned Mike Clevinger into a meme.

One of those homers came in the third inning, and it remains the most impressive home run I have ever seen in person. I remember tracking it across the darkening sky until it crashed into the seats in right-center.

It is the second of the two home runs featured in this clip:

At some point in my life, I will be the old man pointing at the second-to-last row at the bend in the right-field corner saying, “That’s where he hit it”. I cannot wait to relive that home run with a loved one someday.

What other beloved memories do I have from that day?

See, that’s the thing. By the time Ohtani blasted off, I’d sunken through two tall White Rajahs. There’s something gleefully defiant about drinking an IPA in the sun, and I decided in the wake of Ohtani’s second dinger to grab a third.

The rest of that game comes to me through a filter that grows finer as the night deepens until it is impenetrable. I wish that I could say that it was an infrequent occurrence for me. Would you settle for “less frequent than it had been?”

As it turned out, I wouldn’t.

There is a lot of my memory that exists somewhere in pictures or the stories of others. Sometimes I am able to patch together a recollection from these fragments. Indians games, both televised and attended, feature prominently in these; sometimes they include articles that I wrote for this website.

It is more common that I cannot restore the memory. After all, I tended to be alone. It’s worse than simply having blank spots on the tape. There are forgotten answers to questions like Why is one side of my glasses shattered? or When did these key marks all over my door get here? No convincing evidence will ever be discovered that shows how I went from the sidewalk somewhere in River North to my bedroom at Sunnyside and Malden, where dawn filtered in through my window to illuminate the vomit next to my head.

It’s gone.

In some ways, the dull terror from viewing the abyss that yawns in those moments is preferable to empty clawing for forgotten joys. I suppose I felt elated during all of those “thens.” The very feeling I’d sought from drinking captured in a crystal moment, but someone forgot to hit record. Many memories from a long life lived are simply as if they never even happened.

When I look back on it now it feels obvious that the purity of a baseball game is one of the last things I needed to befoul with drinking before deciding to quit for good. It is the sport that I played as a child. I wore my tee-ball uniform to my first spring training game. I fielded grounders and hit tennis balls over the barbed wired fence into the neighboring cow field with my family. Once I’d damaged this sacred territory, I started to realize that without a change in course my track ended over a canyon ahead.

In that context, the way that I see my journey to quitting is this: I decided to quit drinking in about 2015. I tried to do it over and over again, and while those all felt like failures buttressed by lies, they provided me with the lessons I needed to reach today. We’re on a set of tracks that leads a long, long way from the canyon, and the journey has lasted for nearly one year.

Still, there’s another train going there every five minutes and it departs from everywhere. It gets easier and easier to not board, but I have to admit that every once in a long while one of the destinations sure sounds nice.

For now, suffice it to say that a cold soda works just as well as a frothy beer at a baseball game. I can still float on the cadence and pitch of stadium sounds. I want to point out where Ohtani hit it. And, I swear to god, one day Franmil Reyes is going to nail an ice cream cone as it gets served at Pierre’s.

Who knows what memories I will remember in their wake? That’s a blankness, too, but unlike the smoldering null of erasure, it can be dreamed upon.