Somehow, I missed out on baseball when I was a youngster. The two of us hadn't been properly introduced. We never shook hands or sat down to get to know each other. Sure, there were ballgames I played in during gym class and recess, but as one of the kids who'd not been taken through the rituals of Little League I was pretty much hopeless in those limited fields of dreams. When lobbed even a softball floater I hacked and over swung, and though I occasionally connected and had pretty good leg speed I had no idea how to run the bags and more often than not ended up regularly walking the slow, incredulous, scowling amble of a kid who's been tagged out trying to stretch a single into a double.

Field play exposed my uninitiated pedigree even more starkly to humiliation. Usually relegated to an ancillary role, somewhere between the true outfielders and the kids with perfectly broken in mitts playing infield, I worked on honing my assumed routine as someone who would sort of drift and hover upon each contact of bat and ball, yet ever mindful to not quite fully commit myself to the play at hand, and in that way let those with superior skills assert their dominance over the game's outcomes.

Once, I found myself earnestly engaged under a lazy pop up in shallow right center, on the edge of the infield, true no-man's land, with no one in sight to whom I could defer "the chance." It was one of those full of wet earth, early New England spring days but warm enough for jackets to be piled behind the backstop. The flap and flutter of pretty girls' dresses pulsed to the rhythm of rope skip songs being worked across the foul line. And here it was, a play ripe with the promise of spirited affirmation unfolding right there in the blue sky above me, a play hinged to a week's worth of bragging rights between us 6th graders and the upstart combined 4th and 5th graders who had mounted a furious challenge to our realm as kings of the diamond of Kings Highway Elementary.

Make the play and I secure victory; simply catch the softly falling big white ball and I get to be hero for the day, and who knows, maybe longer. Even now I remember the events in slow motion. Sure as colored eggs on Easter, the ball plunked deftly into the web of my upstretched (and borrowed) mitt only to unceremoniously scootch back up and over the squeezing shut leather netting, and tumble behind my back where Teddy Giannetti, a properly schooled kid, a real Yankee Cap-wearing, Mantle-loving ball player, had the presence of mind to back up the play, and catch the errant sphere before it hit the ground.

I'd say it was one of a series of Charlie Brown baseball moments for me, straight out of the Charles Schultz futility playbook, but that overstates my commitment to the game during those years. After finally recognizing my lack of synch in the stitched roundball world, I simply ignored it, cloistered myself from its agonies and its just-out-of-reach beneficence and not until I'd sprouted beard hair and gotten a good jump on a young man's beer belly did baseball and I meet momentously again.


Over the course of my adult years, I've been fortunate to be first hand witness on three separate occasions to the unique pandemonium of a pennant win by the local Nine followed by the ultimate prize: the ring of the World Series Champions. Most recently, I marveled at the perfectly actualized, quirky and enigmatic 2010 Giants here in San Francisco, my home since moving from New York City in 1989, arriving just after the ill fated, quake-punched Bay Bridge Series.

For the three consecutive summers I resided on the island of Manhattan I made a conscious choice to distance myself from my more well bred college chums of those days and so gravitated from their Yankee pinstripe arrogance into an allegiance with Gotham guys with names like Lenny, Wally, Mookie, and Hojo; there was also one called Strawberry, and another called Doc and finally, not the least, a plain named guy called Keith.

Holding court in the hinterlands of one of the lesser boroughs, these ragtag Mets thoroughly rewarded my thinly vested fealty and '86 turned out to be a humdinger, an unforgettable running of the gauntlet. The desolate and the redeemed were never more infamously interchanged than on that cold October night at Shea when Game 6 turned on a 10 pitch extra inning at-bat, courtesy of a (possibly) Bambino-cursed ball skipping felicitously inside the two bad ankles under Billy Buckner's knees.

But my first team, the first truly fallen for team, tracked wire-to-wire April on into October were the '84 Tigers. Raised in a part of Connecticut where baseball allegiances divided unpredictably between those with Boston or New York inflected accents by Chicagoans (no less), who themselves split between the White Sox and Cubs, I realized I had secretly been yearning for the simple guidance of a one team town. The "Detroiters" elegantly spare Olde English "D" logo exerted a magnetic field impossible to withstand, and so it was that I lost my baseball virginity in the summer of 1984.

Those months I was between my Junior and Senior years at the University of Michigan lolling about the land of Great Lakes, and killing time until the start-up of classes again in September. Twilight often brought us out to a small rotation of Ann Arbor porches with the radio tuned to the only strong station, and the transportive voice of Ernie Harwell calling games from 40 miles east (and elsewhere) with darkness settling in on the big green leaves and streetlights crowning still air.

The socio-cultural milieu within which I ran was a world of not-yet-men and, thankfully, mostly forgiving young women. We were students, spontaneous and immortal, uncluttered at least temporarily, by classes and substantive fiduciary responsibility. We kept the insane hours of philosophers and devoted ourselves to meditations on Camus and Nietzschean hangover cures maintaining our equilibrium through cooperative purchase of five dollar cases of Wiedemann's in squat brown bottles.

The Tigers opened the season 35-5...starting 9-0, then 16-1, and required only one hand's fingers for numerating losses until they dropped a series Memorial Day weekend in Seattle. In time the runaway team became known mimetically as "The Roar of '84." The engineer of this bliss wore a Detroit Tiger's "Uni" and his name was Sparky, even though the world now remembers him best in Cincinnati Red. I came to love Sparky Anderson. We all did. We loved the guy's voice, his manner, the even-keeled comfiness of his banter and the feeling that you were in on the straight dope too.

A friend and I were employed that summer to ride John Deere's all day trimming expansive grass fields on the University's various retreats and camplands about a forty-five minute drive northwest from town deep into a lake bedecked rural rednecksville. We literally drove every day through Hell and back (as there is in fact an actual tiny crossroads through which we passed named "Hell, Michigan"). Our labors started promptly at eight so on the way in we tuned the AM dial to WJR "The Great Voice of the Great Lakes" and caught just about every Sparky morning-after radio show keeping us enthralled at 50,000 watts. It was all pretty feel good stuff. Not much second guessing, or hand wringing just a flat out beat down of the rest of the American League East. This at a time when there were only two divisions and two teams from each league earning the right to play October ball. (The Tigers finished the regular season having won 37 more games than the AL East last place Milwaukee Brewers, and 15 up on the 2nd place Jays!)

As the Tigers continued their roll through the standings my grass cutting friend and I, and a few others who sang with us in the U-M Men's Glee Club, pestered the faculty advisor and director about submitting a tape for a chance to sing the National Anthem at a game, any game. Once the Club reconvened in September we recorded an arrangement for male chorus and sent the tape in to the Tigers' front office. October comes around and still no reply, so it's "Oh well, maybe next year." Then as the playoffs get ready to commence we receive the totally unexpected news that we've been tapped to sing the National Anthem, "...should the Tigers get to the World Series." We were assigned a definitive slot too, but it was only for a Game 5.

Well dang! if that wasn't the magic number, as the Padres were able to win just once in San Diego and then the Tigers took a 3-1 advantage after the first two in Detroit behind a Jack Morris complete game victory in Game 4.

So the stage was set: A Sunday night, the 14th of October, ninety-five college Glee Clubbers bus in from Ann Arbor to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, await the appointed cue, swing in from an inconspicuous opening crafted into the outfield wall, and take up position on the infield grass. Surrounded by a keyed up and pensive capacity crowd (to say nothing of Steve Garvey's Popeye forearms), for what was about to unfold as the final World Series clinching game played in venerable old Tiger's Stadium we belted it, let it rip, knocked it outta the park. Vin Scully was demonstrably moved. Yes, he actually stumbled a bit in his comments on air, landing eventually on the words "Thrilling rendition!" or something to that effect. The fans in the stands were going wild.

For the game itself, we had an uninterrupted block of eight dozen seats in the lower deck left field, right up against the fence. Some giddy, high-five moments after the consummation of the final out of the Tiger's Series clinching victory (punctuated by a ferocious 8th inning long ball deep into the upper deck by Kirk Gibson), I offered assistance to a small contingent of baritones, basses and a few lithe advance guard tenors over the not-so-imposing chain link barrier between us and the reasonably high outfield wall from which we dropped down like paratroopers and then ran around freakishly on the outfield grass. One resourceful underclassman, an engineering student I think, who had been experimenting that Fall with high wattage Gro-Lights in his basement managed upon his return to Ann Arbor to kludge together a terrarium of sorts. Reportedly, he kept his little patch of hand scooped turf alive and well all the way through the frozen Midwestern winter, and enjoyed new green sprouting as dispatches from Lakeland, Florida filled the local papers with tales of the champion Tigers returning for spring ball.

Swept up in the netting of these indelible moments and the infectious ardor I picked up from others, I had at last been opened for the ways one learns to love the game, its capacity for renewal, for redemption, its mercurial mandala of interlaced futility and hope, the way rewards are won by taking your best chances with something simply lofted through the sky, and of course by scaling the storied fences. Beginner's luck, I guess, or what is it they say: being in the right place at the right time. It's all about place, really, and when it lines up just's magic.


Doug Bond resides along the Northern California coast in a foggy, windswept dune field once referred to as the Outer Lands. His work has appeared in the pages of Defenestration, The Big Jewel, r.kv.r.y. quarterly and Necessary Fiction. Doug links us to his blog, taking us back to October 1984 and the live TV coverage of the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club's performance of the National Anthem: Additional confabulations and portals to virtual worlds may be found here: