Baseball Between History, Memory and being SoCuttered

I’ve been telling myself for the last few weeks that I couldn’t go to Houston today for the Phils game. I live in Austin and Houston is at least three hours away, my boyfriend works weekend nights, I have to work on/finish/revise my thesis… but last night all the good reasons to stay home and be responsible just melted away and we decided we had to go. He kept saying we’ll see them in a few weeks when we head back to Philly for part of the summer, but it just seemed too far away. And I was dying to see Doc Halladay. He, of course, did not disappoint– 111 pitches, complete game, 1 run, 7 hits, 8 Ks (6 cuttered, 2 so cuttered?) and neither did the day.

Minute Maid Park is the only dome I’ve ever been to and both times I’ve been there I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I like it. When we went last year the dome was closed and at a cool 70-75 degrees it actually felt like a summer evening in the northeast. Today the dome was open and the sun was shining– a beautiful day for a ballgame. But what I like about MMP is that it really nicely combines the old style feeling of contemporary retro ballparks with a super-modern twist. It feels and looks like a renovated early industrial factory building with exposed girders and walls of glass windows, but at the same time it’s clean and crisp and very modern. Next time I’m at Citizen’s Bank Park I’ll have to think more carefully about how it compares to the older ballparks– which will perhaps be easier after I see Wrigley… I’m also very eager to visit Citi Field to see how it compares to the images I have of the old parks like Ebbets field. Because my research is invested in Pierre Nora’s ideas about “sites of memory”  and also draws on work on cultural memory, entangled memory (Marita Sturken) and sedimented memory (George Lipsitz), I’m especially interested in not just seeing these new ballparks as quaint or nostalgic throwbacks but as far more complex representations and negotiations of the past and present.

These negotiations also play out in something like Saturday’s retro night which celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Astrodome (or the Harris County Domed Stadium as it was known then). I was particularly struck watching the broadcast at the comparisons between the 1965 hitters and today’s hitters. They talked more than once about how the home run leaders from then and now are hitting almost the same number of home runs… the totals have come down significantly in this “post-steroid era.” I’m really interested in this because one of my scholarly contentions is that representations (and discussions) of the past are most productive when they actively move between the past and present. Though I won’t elaborate on this example here, I nonetheless think it demonstrates really interesting potential for talking about history and obviously in particular baseball history. I raise this example however because before the game started as we were sitting, (sort of) enjoying a beer (it was bad, even for bud light) and the sun, a group of Latinos sat down in front of us. There were two older men– 50s or 60s perhaps– and two young kids– somewhere between 8 and 12 maybe?. One of the older men was telling his sons about going to the Astrodome all the time when it first opened. I’m trying to get in the habit of accruing a personal archive of baseball and history/baseball’s representation of history and so I started taking notes like a good little ethnographer. The first thing I wrote was: *Baseball and Memory– does this have anything to do with history? (and I might add now, historiography and the telling of history or historical consciousness). [I added underneath: “How does this tie into Ken Burns?” but that’s a whole other set of related things I’m thinking about.] I also wrote: “what about the Astros historical lack of marketing to the Latino community?” (This is an issue Ron Briley in particular has written about, one of his more insightful discussions, in my opinion.) And as I wrote this, I also noted the country music blaring over the PA system. I’m interested in this issue not only because it engages with the racial history of the game, the team and the state (and as we all know Philadelphia the Phillies are equally not exempt from these kinds of complicated racial histories and part of my goal in writing down this example is as I indicated above to work on accumulating a broader set of data to work with when I eventually write my book on baseball and cultural memory (eventually being the operative word), but because it engages personal memory with broader histories. And this engagement, I contend, is absolutely vital for any sense of history and memory in baseball in part because it is so susceptible to an unproductive nostalgic mood ( “understood as a socio-cultural response to forms of discontinuity, claiming a vision of stability and authenticity in some conceptual golden age” (Paul Grainge, “Nostalgia and Style in Retro America” 28).

I would then juxtapose this scene with one that immediately followed and a moment of reflection on the drive back to Austin. Still waiting for the game to start, an ad for Blue Bell ice cream came on the digital screen. It begins: “Some things you never forget…” and goes on to show images of first kisses and any number of other sentimental milestones, it ends with “…your first taste of Blue Bell ice cream” and shows a little blonde haired white boy licking an ice cream cone. This is the above mentioned nostalgic mood, a mood which is more often than not ahistorical, reactionary and above all not productive. On the drive home I was thinking about this and I got a little angry. I was angry because though I have baseball memories of being that age, they’re not the ones I hold closest to my heart. Heading home from a Phillies game with the Jealous Sound and the Clash and the Bouncing Souls on in the car doesn’t remind me of being twelve years old  and I don’t especially want to be reminded of being twelve years old– it was not an especially good time for me. It reminds me of being 20 and 21 of the first summer my boyfriend and I dated when he had to go up and buy two beers, one for him and one for me because I wasn’t of age yet. It reminds me of roadtripping to RFK on the last day of the 2005 season. The Phillies won, but so did the Astros and they took the Wild Card by a half game. (When we left the park, my headlights had blown a fuse or something and we were stuck in DC overnight. Incidentally that’s one of my all-time favorite Phillies memories. Winning the series in ’08 was amazing of course, but that was the first I ever had a team that I really cared about, but again that’s really another story/post altogether.) So I asked somewhat angrily, why is all the nostalgia for this illusory time of innocence that never was? Why can’t we be encouraged to remember productive moments in our past through the game– moments through which we’ve stepped forward and stepped back? Moments in which we were far from innocent, moments which were far from ideal but nonetheless shaped who we are and our relationship to where we’re from? That allow us to have a place to be from? There are alot of answers to these questions many of which I think relate to really problematic and hegemonic baseball histories, and this is exactly why I think baseball and memory/history/nostalgia is such fruitful territory– how much do personal memories and Ken Burns histories coincide? How do we understand that intersection or lack of intersection? How do we understand the individual and the collective through the game? How are we encouraged not to understand the individual and the collective through the game? Why?

…and of course, what role does media play in this? One of the reasons I love sports is because they are so often experienced through media and yet they are so reliant on their existence outside of media, on the ability to experience the games outside of media. So, with that I will close with a thought on Roy Halladay’s delivery. It is beautiful and so much better in person. It is so basic, so simple, so classic. It’s the windup you practice with your friends on the proverbial sandlot, with your mom/dad in the street. It’s kinda nostalgic, isn’t it? (I guess I can’t help but fall into the same traps that I critique.) Either way, it gets the job done. Boy does it ever get the job done. Cuttered. So very very cuttered.

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