The definition of melancholy came to me last night in the top row of the home side bleachers at Cotuit’s Elizabeth Lowell baseball park: it’s watching 30 college freshmen and sophmores dressed in white and cranberry pin-stripes hug each other goodbye at the end of their first summer swinging a wooden bat in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
The last game started at 4:30, a half-hour earlier than usual due to Cotuit’s wonderful lack of lights and inability to play ball deep into the gloaming. I arrived on time, scorebook in hand, and staked out the top row for myself and my two kids while they bought t-shirts and caps from the Kettleer’s Store with my credit card. For some reason I thought Cotuit had a shot at making the playoffs, but alas, that was not the case. The team that won the championship in 2010 was finishing the western division of the CCBL in fat last and yesterday’s game was the swan song, the final act, curtains on an all-too-brief season that began in early June, seemed to never end in July and suddenly, like the day after Christmas, was over and done.
The worst part for me is February, when bored out of my mind and numbed by the black and white colorless movie that is Cape Cod in winter, I eventually turn my car into the parking lot and and idle in front of the home plate gate, staring through the chainlink backstop at the blue tarp protecting the pitcher’s mound and the stand of pines arced behind the outfield fence.
“Somehow the summer seemed to slip by faster this time,” wrote A. Barlett Giamatti in his famous sad ode to the game. It’s been accelerating for years it seems. Where summer used to end in a procession of station wagons with bikes strapped to the roof on the afternoon of Labor Day, sad faces pressed to the windows in the line of traffic waiting to cross the Sagamore Bridge, it now peters out in mid-August, as the schools open ever earlier, pre-season soccer eats into sailing, and hurricane season lurks off the coast of Africa waiting, making me fret: “Will this be the year of the big one?”
Cotuit went out with a win over Brewster. A crisp 3-0 win where all went well, no major dramatics, some heroic catches and the usual eccentricities of Cape baseball. I ate a hot dog and popcorn. My children were next to me, their friends next to them. A friend I hadn’t seen since 1974 introduced herself and her children and I think we both felt older because of it. Ivan Partridge, the ageless booster of the Kettleers, who stands steadfastly at the chainlink fence and yells “Have a Hit!” at every Cotuit batter, stood before us in the stands and exhorted us to make some noise and “let the boys know how much you appreciated them this summer.” And so we cheered, dropped our bills into the plastic kettles passed out by the children, bought our 50/50 raffle tickets from the players working the stands, and scurried to the snackbar when the announcer declared it was two-for-one time as the concession owner tried to empty the shelves before lowering the shutters and locking up for the next nine months.
I started to regret every missed game, those lost chances to sit in the stands for three free hours and watch the timeless game, a little maudlin that this team would vanish forever, to be replaced by a new one next year, in the same uniforms but all different young men. Some would become stars in the big leagues. This year’s designated hitter, Victor Roache, was a pleasure to watch every time he came to the plate, and yesterday he received the top prospect award from the major league scouts who prowl the games looking for talent. So one never knows looking at the rosters which few will go on to become the next Chase Utley, Buster Posey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Nomar Garciaparra — but some will, and knowing that makes the process of getting acquainted with every year’s new team so worthwhile, so that someday you’ll be able to say: “I remember when he played for Harwich in 2008 …..”
Regret is a silly thing, so I stood and applauded while the boys hugged each other out in the middle of the diamond, stuck my pencil behind my ear, collected my trash, and headed for home.
“I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.” A. Bartlett Giamatti, former commissioner of Major League Baseball and president of Yale, The Green Fields of the Mind, from A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti