Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Week with the Boys of Summer

Thanks so much to Anna G. Stevens for guest writing this post. Anna joined us for a leg of the trip, from Chicago to Seattle, and we loved having her join in on the experience. 

I have been told numerous times that reverse culture shock is significantly more intense than the culture shock one experiences when going to a foreign country. Therefore when I told people that straight upon my arrival in America I was to join my boyfriend Damon and his three friends on a leg of their journey to watch a game at all thirty major league baseball stadiums, I was greeted with reactions of bewilderment. My lack of experience as a sports fan paired with the amount of time I would be spending in a cramped car, trying to get over jet lag and participate in something I had minimal prior knowledge about further compounded the skepticism I was met with. Returning home to America would not be like returning home at all. I was certainly out of my league.

I can attribute a five-month absence from Damon to the reason behind why I wanted to fly to the Windy City and to a sport I knew nothing about—yup I had missed Damon a lot. But, my motives for asking if I could come along did not just stem from my need to see Damon. Befriending Damon, and then subsequently Craig, Owen and Jeff, meant being introduced to a world that was so foreign to me. Two years ago I  knew little about the sports world and had no idea there was even a fantasy one. I didn't understand how sports could be so important—so consuming—that people would remove themselves from their immediate environment, so that they could witness "an important game" or "an important draft." Furthermore it seemed to me that there was "an important game" every three days. How was this possible? I wanted to be on this trip because I wanted to try to understand why and how these guys felt so passionately about this sport—passionate enough to dedicate thirty-eight days to it. I wanted to have first hand experience ant not just live through Damon's commentary. Fortunately, becoming the fifth road-tripper on the 30 in 38 tour changed my perspective, albeit differently than expected and only for baseball, on the accessibility to sports and the culture that comes along with it.

The first stadium I visited in the 30 in 38 tour was Wrigley Field and it was here my interest in baseball started to blossom. The rusted stadium supports, the simplicity of the scoreboard, the hard metal seats and the peanuts, crackerjacks and beer in plastic cups supported in preconceived notions about the baseball experience. To gear up for my immersion back into America I had spent the last week of my semester abroad in Germany watching old baseball classics: Bull Durham, The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield, Fever Pitch and Field of Dreams. These movies filled my head with images of old baseball fields, rickety bleachers and plain clothes men walking about, a large box on their heads, selling concessions; I came to assume that this was what baseball was like. Wrigley Field exemplified this authentic baseball experience, or at least what I perceived to be the authentic baseball experience. I could not have been happier. Although I was slightly disappointed to learn that Wrigley Field is an anomaly to baseball stadiums, just knowing that this field existed gave me reassurance that my baseball beliefs had some merit to them.  Each game I attended I grew less interested in the experience as a fan and more curious about the sport. I asked questions—what does it mean to throw a no hitter?—I ate hotdogs, hell I even stood up and cheered on my own accord. Welcome back to America.

I did not like the film Field of Dreams when I watched it. I found the acting mediocre to bad, the storyline confusing and the feasibility of it ridiculous. Seriously, why would someone mow down his cornfields to build a baseball field simply because he was hearing voices? When I found out that we were to spend our day off driving many hours to nowheresville Dyersville, Iowa to visit the location where the 1989 classic had been filmed I was super indifferent and believed it would be a waste of time. However, as we drove down the gravel driveway and saw the small, iconic field next to the white farmhouse my cynicism was replaced by understanding. I felt as if, unlike Shoeless Joe Jackson, Archie "Moonlight" Graham and other players in the film, I was transported back into time as opposed to into the future. For me, the importance of the Field of Dreams lay not in the fact that it was used in a Hollywood film, but rather that it evoked nostalgia for the past while making me appreciate my present. I could feel the presence of others who had been there before, the believers and the non-believers who, like me, had that minds changed about America's favorite pastime. I watched Jeff, Damon, Owen and Craig play catch and I understood the truth behind Terence Mann's favorite quote:

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh...people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

Being a part of the 30 in 38 baseball tour has changed my opinion about sports, most specifically baseball, and about my own country in unintended ways. I would say that I did encounter reverse culture shock, but in a very positive way. I discovered the thrill and excitement of going to a sporting event and feeling as if I was a part of it. Outside of high school Nordic skiing and crew races, I have never felt that before. As I stood and watching the American flag blow, while singing along to the National Anthem and looking out onto the Rocky Mountains in Denver or McCovey Cove in San Francisco, I was filled with an unfamiliar sensation: a pride for my country I had never before felt. It was amazing to be in such geographically different parts of American and be able to share the same experience with thousands of other people and to think about the thousands who had been there just the day, or week or year before. Watching a baseball game is like watching a movie made of still frames; the players and stadiums may change, but the ebb and flow of the game will remain the same. The excitement.The disappointment. The confusion. The joy.

I know that in many ways I did not deserve to have ridden along on this journey—I provided little in the way of conversational topics regarding the theme of this trip and I am sure that I paled in comparison to the scores of other sport-enthusiastic friends Damon, Owen, Jeff and Craig have, in recognizing just how cool the whole trip is. But, the beauty of this trip, was that these four guys have made not only their goal—their dreams—attainable, but that they made baseball accessible to me and gave me the opportunity to discover its charm for myself. Over the course of nine days I witnessed a walk-off home run, walked onto the field at AT&T park, saw Barry Bonds, watch an Aurora shooting victim throw the ceremonial first pitch and was able to finally watch a Mariners game at Safeco Field sitting next to my steadfastly-loyal-Mariners-fan boyfriend.

This formerly unfamiliar world now seems a bit more manageable, and a lot less confusing. In a selfish way I wish I was still along for the adventure, but for now I will sit back and, like hundreds of others, live vicariously through their pictures and blog posts.

As Ray Kinsella says in Field of Dreams: "It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it." I am so happy these four are fulfilling their dream and able to take us along for the ride. It's a pretty special thing.

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