900 words about Baseball in Winter

By Kristen Gowdy

Peace arises in the form of a white blanket over a green field. The wintry, powdery fluff masks the normally vibrant greens of its outfield and the more subtle reds and browns of its infield diamond. The fence lines the field’s outer edge, retaining its deep blue color. The fast-accumulating snow has not yet mounted its chain links.

The field sees its most quiet during the long winter months. The serenity that accompanies the falling flakes is encased in their growing drifts and seldom emerges when the weather is warm. It is for this reason that the silence seems wrong somehow. This is not a place that is supposed to be quiet.

No, the field lives for the buzzing chatter of its inhabitants, who will assume their nine positions across its entirety only when the sun bakes the diamond. When the clay-like dirt of the infield loosens enough to slide on — right now it’s hard, packed from the icy weight that bears down upon it — fists will pound into leather gloves, metal spikes of cleats will rip through the grass, players will call back and forth to each other. That creates a sweet, repetitive symphony of noise unheard anywhere else.

Hey batter batter, hey batter.

As the snow envelops the field, echoes of springs past are evident in the frigid wind. It swirls around the gentle slope of the pitcher’s mound in the middle of the field, kicking up dusty wisps of powder. For just a moment, it is easy to picture a lanky pitcher atop the mound, grey and dark blue uniform cleanly pressed, brim of cap hanging low over contemplating eyes, preparing to deliver a pitch to his batterymate behind home plate.

The catcher receives the ball and, throwing his mask from his face to clear his vision, whips the ball down to second base, where a purple-and-gold clad base runner is attempting to swipe the bag.

The blanket of snow reaches knee-height, the wind whistles, beckoning, urging the runner on as he stretches his arms into a headfirst dive. The field yearns for him to reach the base safely, anything to extend the game.

The catcher, however, makes it look easy, his bulky legs providing much of the heavy lifting as he pops out of his crouch. Out. Inning over. The catcher wipes dirt and sweat from his brow and stoops to retrieve his mask. With a quick smile, he retires to the shade of the dugout, where he awaits his turn to bat.

Meanwhile, his teammate, the small, skinny shortstop from a tiny town no one has heard of, has taken his place in the white-chalked batter’s box. He holds the wooden bat just off his shoulder, his face set with determination under his helmet. A white blur moves towards him as the opposing pitcher delivers. The ball seems to slice through the air, a curveball that begins at the batter’s eye level and ends at his knees. He knows he has no chance of making contact, so he watches it pass. The catcher’s mitt thuds.

But the next pitch, the batter sees perfectly. Fastball. Outside corner. The pitcher has missed his spot. Low, but not low enough. Crack.

The purest sound in the sport — in all of sport, for that matter — reverberates across the field, rustling the pristine grass of the outfield and causing the scattered fans in the wooden bleachers to look away from their hot dogs and conversation. The ball laces into right field, landing in the gap between the two outfielders. Perfect placement for an easy double, as the batter slides gracefully into second base.

His efforts elicit a great surge of applause from the fans, most of whom are parents, or else students in tank tops and shorts, using baseball as an excuse to enjoy one of the first truly warm days of spring. They lay out on the grassy patch down the right field line, sporting sunglasses and rubbing tanning lotion on their exposed arms and legs. Some aren’t even facing the game’s action, they lay on their stomachs with their heads buried into the creases of their elbows.

But then there are the other fans — those that have shown up because they have been waiting for months to  finally watch baseball again. The opening game of the season is their Groundhog Day. Once baseball can be played, once the field is groomed and free of the binding restrictions of snow, then spring can truly begin. They can once again believe that the warmth of the sport will end the anticipation of the coming summer months. They sit contentedly in the bleachers, not caring about the score or the statistics, rather choosing to take in the beauty of the field, and the game being played upon it.

All of this can be seen in a brief instant, the warm scenes reflecting off of the icy quilt that currently coats the field, teasing those who know to look for them within the cold confines of the field. Beyond the left field fence, the ice on the lake that can be seen at a distance remains firm and unyielding, a sign that spring is still a long ways away. The field seems resigned to the fact. The electronic scoreboard remains turned off, the dugouts quiet and the field void of play.

And the snow continues to fall.

Editor’s note: This story is part of our September 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about Location: Where are you, and how does it affect how you see the world?’

 

Kristen Gowdy is the media and marketing assistant at USA Bobsled & Skeleton. She graduated from Ithaca College and has done internships with the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Seattle Times and the Colorado Springs Gazette. You can reach her @KristenGowdy.

 


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