I don’t ordinarily dedicate things but I notice that all the best authors and poets do it and so perhaps by doing so I will raise myself a notch in the view of those who might throw me a testimonial dinner one day. In any event, I was looking up George Bowering in the Vancouver Public Library and practically fell over when I saw 83 books listed under his name. I don’t have anything under mine, except overdue fines and the like.
Bowering is known to be a lover of baseball and some of the books are either about baseball or have some baseball content. It got me thinking. I’m not a fan of any sport and in fact hate the whole concept of sports, except for pool. I almost got good at pool myself but then my eyes went. Glasses didn’t help. Lining up shots the rims always got in the way. By the time I discovered that they made special glasses for pool players it was too late. Also, the only sport I could bear to watch on TV, when I had one, was snooker. Because on TV they can show you the table from directly above, a view not available in most poolhalls.
But I love the sound of baseball. When I was eleven or twelve I spent a few weeks one summer with my cousin who lived in a third-floor walkup on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. Of course he loved the Dodgers and at night we hung out in his room listening to the Dodgers games. He filled me in on who was who but very little of it stuck, nor did I care much, but I found the sound of the play-by-play, crowd noises in the background, and the thwack of bat on ball a great pleasure to hear. It was like a leisurely sonata that ambled along for a couple of hours on summer nights. After that when my Dad was listening to ball games in the kitchen while my mother watched old movies on the TV downstairs I’d go in there and hang out with him, paying no attention whatsoever to the game itself but just enjoying the sound of it as I putzed around the kitchen.
One day, a year or so after that Brooklyn summer I received a gift from my cousin. He’d caught a home run ball hit into the stands by Duke Snider. After the game he waited by the Ebbets Field exit and got Snider to sign the ball and in a gesture of the greatest generosity I have ever benefited from he sent it to me. I absolutely did not deserve that ball because within weeks, after taking it out to the street to play with . . . or whatever I did . . . I lost it. I hope I’m not being too unsentimental when I say that today that ball would be worth a million dollars.
Some years after that I watched a TV interview with a guy who had done baseball play-by-play for an independent radio station somewhere in some small town in the middle of America. Small stations couldn’t afford the live network feed so guys like this kept track of game action via the incoming teletype and re-enacted the game as though live from the stadium right there in the studio complete with a battery of sound effects. Tape loops of crowd sounds (ooohs, ahhs . . cheers . . . and ambient noises) the bat on ball thwack, etc. Rather than being disillusioned I loved the idea of a game broadcast so pure there was no game itself. The teletype-announcer was a musician of the highest order.
Listen to The New York Giants vs The Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, August 31st, 1951:
With Melody Diachun, Kitsilano Billiards, Vancouver. December 15 2002.
[Ebbets Field and Duke Snider, unidentified photographers]