My sister and I spent one summer of our life going to Washington Senator's baseball games. We were 10 and 12. The recreation department sponsored a contest that allowed us to win easily as many tickets as we wanted. Buying large quantities of hot dogs was somehow connected with "winning" large numbers of tickets, but I can't remember the particulars today.
My father escorted us to the first game. But the bleacher seats all around ours were occupied by other contest winners, many of whom were far more interested in counting the number of hot dogs consumed than the number of outs or innings. So my father soon decided it would be safe for us to go to games by ourselves.
As often as we could, we took the bus to Connecticut and Calvert, where we transferred to another bus that took us right to Griffith Stadium. And day after day we sat in the sun-baked bleachers, the wood as dry and brittle as the boardwalk at the beach, and got hooked on baseball. What had been just a sound on the radio that followed my father as he mowed the lawn or that filtered out through the screen door on a summer night came alive.
From the first game on, I was struck by the tumultuous insides of the stadium. The constant threading of fans through the aisles made the concrete stands move, gave a flow to the high stadium walls that surrounded us all. And I remember how the bright colors of the people's shirts in the shaded stands used to pick up the sun overhead, bounce it back to us in the bleachers in blinding hues, and how those colors would shimmer in the heat across the field, as if the whole third-base line were plugged in to an electric socket.
There was motion everywhere on the field, too, not just in the batter's box or on the pitcher's mound. Eddie Yost at third base would crouch over, waiting to spring on a line drive, and all the while, smack-smack, smack-smack, in the same rhythm, his hand would knead the darkened inside leather of his glove. Harmon Killebrew, warming up on the on-deck circle, would send the air around him rippling as he swung his bat in circles over his head, then around his shoulder, and down to his knees.
Signals were everywhere, short, clipped, continuous: catcher to pitcher, third-base coach to batter, chattering on and on in incessant hand-jive. And all the while in the stands, the flow never stopped. Ice cream, beers and cold drinks were passed, hand after hand, down the long rows of seats, and quarters and dimes popped up in the air would be retrieved by vendors with the ease of infielders.
Out in the bleachers, especially in the "winners" seats, we drank a bright orange creation, a cold slush, that by the end of the season had passed its color along permanently to my seersucker shorts. We got to know our own team by their numbers, then by their averages, by their stances and finally by their faces, even shaded by their baseball caps.
I don't know what my sister thought about on all those hot, steamy afternoons, although she talked a lot about Camilo Pascual's pitching. But I thought about being an outfielder, about racing across the green fields on cleated shoes, wearing clip-on sunglasses; about snagging high flies and pulling home-run balls out of the left-field skies.
I believe that baseball is a game loved by dreamers. It is a game in which natural-looking, agile men -- men not encumbered by massive shoulders, thighs like hams or legs like stilts -- can outrun, outmaneuver and outthink each other. It is their shape, that proportion of man to field, that makes us dream of being those men, of being able to play. That, too, I think is why women like the game.
Out in the bleachers in particular it is easy to dream, to fade over the fine points of the game for awhile, to shade your eyes against the sun and soak up summer until the crack of the bat, the line drive blistering down the base line, brings you back to where you are.
Now on Opening Day in Washington -- when the offices used to be deserted by noon and the men used to come home late with their shirt-sleeves rolled up and their noses sunburned -- that is why so many of us dream, and then dream on and on.