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Of Baseball (Kind Of), Backpacks, September 11th, & Recent News

May 4, 2011

There’s a little girl. She’s five, maybe six, and she walks into Candlestick Park holding her dad’s hand and glaring at her uncle, who’s making fun of her for being so much shorter than them. Inside the stadium it’s as windy and cold as usual, but the girl has ceased to care about anything other than “Dad! Dad look! It’s Barry Bonds!” She dives into her father’s faded orange backpack and comes out with a pair of binoculars. Through their lenses she finds J.T. Snow and Jeff Kent, Kirk Rueter and Robb Nen. She follows them in and out of the dugout and onto the outfield where she tries to track the balls flying through the air. Finally, she follows the “6” on Snow’s back to the foul line and her dad pulls her to her feet and reminds her to take the small Giants cap off her head.

She sings along to the Star Spangled Banner because she likes to sing. She hardly understands the words. Rockets and bombs and ramparts are just things in the stories her grandfather will tell her when they return to his house in Walnut Creek. They are things she knows only in the context of sitting on the floor leaning against his leg, or her grandmother’s, hugging the stuffed raccoon that always waits for her at that house to her chest. They disappear in the blue sky and the sun. War is an abstract, as it should be. It’s books and stories and history lessons. It’s the wheel of a naval ship her grandfather has hanging in his study.

***

Three years later, in January of 2002, she’s with her mom and her sister in Florida, trying to navigate the maze that is security at Kennedy Space Center. Her mother talks about how much has been closed off to the public. It hardly makes a difference to the girl, she’s  never been there before.

War means a little more now. It’s not just fairy tales any longer. Her grandmother, the other one, has told her of her childhood. Okinawa. The Philipines. The Pacific Theater. She’s seen scars even, but its difficult to connect that to the present.

***

She lives in a small town, relatively speaking. There’s no freeway, one high school, and you never pay for parking. Florida might have changed. Home had not. They aren’t immune though. You still don’t have to get your bags checked walking into the Children’s Museum, but there’s an AF base in Fallon and an RoTC program at the high school and a million and one connections to the armed forces.

One year the girl insists on playing Little League, dang it. No more of this softball thing. Once, before a game, the mayor comes to speak and there’s a ceremony to honor someone’s father. He uses words like “ultimate sacrifice” and “honor” and “courage”  and “thank you”.

Now there’s something real. Something tangible. Something more than pictures on a screen.

***

The girl and her dad take off one weekend to go to a Giants game. Candlestick is a memory and Pacific Bell Park sits by the water. That prompts a lesson in monopolies and the history of phone companies from her father. Again she digs binoculars out of a backpack. This time she’s carrying the backpack, and it has been searched. It’s strange. This happened in Florida of course, but to her Florida may as well be another country. It’s humid, there are alligators, and its Disney World instead of Disneyland. San Francisco is home though. Or close enough. Maybe New York isn’t as far away as she had thought.

A few months later she’ll learn that even little Chukchansi Park is conducting searches.

***

She moves to Seattle for high school, so there are more games to go to, though her San Francisco Giants seem far, far away. Safeco Field becomes a common enough destination, and now it’s all routine. It’s been this way nearly her entire remembered life. Hand over bag, sometimes the same ridiculously orange colored backpack as all those years ago in Candlestick — show ticket — find seat. Somewhere too many thousands of miles away too many thousands of people are too far away from home. Just like they’ve been for 10 years. Sometimes she knows some of these people, sometimes she doesn’t.

***

The contents of the backpack never change much. Binoculars, water, rosters, should-be-hiking-only-snack-food. Maybe a baseball and a sharpie. Always a glove, if it isn’t being worn. Lately there’s been a camera too. That’s her addition, her dad couldn’t care less.

*** *** *** ***

The little girl, of course, is me. But she’s also every other child who first knew war not as Pearl Harbor, or Vietnam, or the threat of nuclear disaster; but as planes crashing into towers and backpacks being searched at baseball stadiums and amusement parks.

Something of that ended last night. I’m still not sure exactly what. But the man who’s face we put to the beginning of it all, the man who did too much to define our generation, is dead.

It will hardly change the practicalities of every day life. The next time I go to Safeco, which will be for the series against the Yankees, my backpack with its binoculars and camera and water will still be opened up and glanced into, just as Seattle will still angrily boo Alex Rodriguez.

But maybe it will be a little bit different. Somehow. Maybe we’ve finally come to the beginning of the end, however long that end might be.

Perhaps I’m naive to even consider such a thing. But in that case, if the bad can never completely end, then the good can’t either. Like that backpack, that absurdly ugly backpack, that’s waiting in the garage for May 27th and a stadium many miles and many years away from Candlestick Park and the wind.

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