Monday, November 15, 2004

A Lunar Eclipse

“THE BOSTON RED SOX ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS.” I wrote these words down on my scorecard just moments before the last out at Busch Stadium. I wanted to try them on for size and see how they looked. I stared at them in disbelief, fearing the ink would disappear as it dried, like that ink they sell on the last page of comic books.

I have been going to Red Sox games since I was in utero. My most vivid memory of my Dad is the one of him crying in front of the T.V. after the famed 1986 Bill Buckner episode. He cried like a baby for hours.

When the last out was made and the Red Sox fans stormed the field, I sat back in my box seat motionless. All at once I felt one great weight lift, while I felt another, more ominous one, descend. In the back of every Red Sox fan’s mind is that nagging belief that tomorrow they would find an error and disqualify the win; that perhaps the Supreme Court would step in and name the St. Louis Cardinals as 2004 World Series Champions. I rubbed the words I had just written on my card to see if they would come off. Maybe tomorrow, I thought, still not able to grasp the idea that the Red Sox had really won, it would all change. It was the corollary of the Langston Hughes poem: what happens to a dream realized?

I could not avoid these thoughts any more than I could have avoided the lunar eclipse that night. My Mom and Dad leaped the railings and bounded onto the field as though they were teenagers, hugging people they didn’t even know, repeating the mantra: “Can you believe it?” over and over.

I saw a kid who made the trip to St. Louis from Boston, with a shaved head painted red dancing with an old priest who wore a Red Sox cap backwards; I saw an elderly woman with a cane walking tortoise-like to find anyone to hug, stopping every few steps to raise her cane over her head and hoot, only to have her voice weakly blended into the commotion now on the field.

Still, I sat in my box seats, clutching the program, waiting to wake from this dream, taking it all in. After the T.V. crews finished the immediate interviews, they moved with stern purpose into the locker room to capture the mayhem as the players made their way into the clubhouse.

When I looked up at the freshly eclipsed moon, it seemed bleached, whiter than I have ever seen it before. It was a spotlight, I thought, bearing witness to one of nature’s most immutable laws being violated: the Red Sox winning a world championship.

As I scanned the few fans remaining in the seats, I spied one fan crumpled in a heap in the section next to ours. His clothing appeared as a lump and appeared dingy and wrinkled. I could make out no features of his face. Since he was still around after the game watching the celebration, I deduced that he must have been a Red Sox fan.

I made my way over to talk to him, perhaps share some game moments. When I sat down next to him, I realized that something was very odd. His clothing was not only dingy and gray but his hair, skin and face were various shades of gray as well. I moved closer and finally spoke to him. When he looked up, his face appeared as if he were a character on one of those old Movietone films you see on the History Channel. The gray appearance seemed to crackle with lines, just like the old reels used to. When he spoke, his voice had the static background one of these old films had too.
“Great game, huh?” he said to me.
He turned his face to me and in the moonlight I could finally see it clearly, but I did not believe it. His face was young, bulbous and boyish. He wore a flat gray newsies cap and was chewing on the stump of a big cigar in his mouth. I recognized the face at once and I was speechless.

“Yeah, well it was,” he said to me when I could not speak. “It was a good run, but now it’s over!” He bit the tip of the cigar off, looked away and spit. I knew who this man was. If I told you it was George Herman Ruth – the great Babe himself, sitting in this box seat, watching the proceedings, making small talk with me – you would think me crazy, but it was so, though I knew this was impossible.

“It was a good run, huh, kid? 1918. Those bums could never win a world series.” He looked up at me and gave a wink.
“You mean the curse?” was all I was able to say.
“Curse?” he laughed. “Don’t tell me you believe in that malarkey, do you?”

We both sat and watched the players and fans congratulate each other; the joy was abundant everywhere if you were a Red Sox fan. The air was thick with it.

“You know, I was a pretty good pitcher in my day,” he broke the silence between us. Of course I knew this. Everyone knew about Babe Ruth. Everyone knew about the curse. He told me about the deal that got him traded to the Yankees, how Harry Frazee had sold his contract to Jacob Rupert’s New York Yankees for $100,000 – which was a lot of money in that day - so he could finance his girlfriend’s Broadway singing career. “Think anyone remembers her now?” he chuckled.

When he spoke, there was a gleam in eyes, the kind of gleam a boy has; the kind of gleam these guys have chasing a little white ball around a field with gloves and sticks. He was from another age and I could tell by the way he spoke. He called women “dames”, and he used words like “swell” and “malarkey”. He lived in a time when people traveled by train; he lived in an age of river seekers, when people wanted to get at the core of things. He offered truth through the life of the hero. I knew about his personal life. I was aware of his voracious appetite for food, women and drink. But these are modern concerns. Today we want our gods like us to make us feel immortal. When Babe played on these diamonds it was about home runs; it was about creating large mountainous feats; it was about storytelling.

We watched the joy unfold in the lunar eclipsed moonlight for some time in silence after that. Finally I had to ask him the question. Why? Why after all these years did he remove the curse? Why?

He looked down at the floor of the box seat and played absentmindedly with his fingers. When he did speak, his teeth were tightly clamped around the cigar and he had to force the words out of his mouth. “I guess I have just become a hunter of more invisible game,” was all he said. He winked again, and tapped me with a rolled up newspaper he had in his baggy pockets.

“Besides, Ted Williams said he was going to bust me square in the nose if I didn’t! Boy, he is one ornery guy.”

The Babe stood up, stretched and turned to make his way up the aisle. I could see how large a man he was when he stretched. “Don’t take any wooden nickels, kid,” he said, and he was gone.

As I sat and looked out at the field, I could see security now clearing the fans. The players were all gone now, and Mom and Dad came by still radiating the buzz from that night. No one had seen me talking to the Babe; no one saw him get up and turn and walk up these steps and out the exit we were now walking. We followed the path where I had just seen Babe Ruth pass only moments earlier.

We drove back to the hotel that night, late. I didn’t read any papers or watch any T.V. I went to sleep wondering if gravity would still hold me down in the morning. After everything that happened this night, all things seemed possible.

MB 2004




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