When the Padres Still Played Baseball in Yuma: Summer Chronicles 2018 #7

by on July 30, 2018 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

Credit: mark6mauno / flickr

It’s the dog days of summer but it’s Spring Training all year round in San Diego as the Padres sort through their stock of minor leaguers to see who might still be around in a few years when they hope to be competitive. That means losing a lot. Watching a good amount of losing baseball requires a different lens and an appreciation for the small things inside and outside the game.

Recent efforts to increase the speed of the game are a reflection of the fear that America’s historic pastime is too slow for our constantly-plugged-in culture. We are always running, and it is not. Still, baseball is the perfect summer game because, at base, it’s timeless, lazy. There are lots of empty spaces, best felt at the lower tech, minor league parks, but still there everywhere else if you can tear your eyes away from the big screen.

Having some sense of the fact that watching baseball means occupying a seat in a larger tradition or history also helps—knowing what came before, the role the game has played in our culture. What has been lost and where the ghosts of baseball past still haunt us—the remains of old parks in Catalina, Hana, and other out of the way places where the big leaguers used to train or play.

One such place for the Padres was Yuma, Arizona where they used to have Spring Training. The great thing about having the games there was that it was close, but also that it had more character than the strip-mall that is Peoria. Somehow, Yuma felt right for our local losers. It was a beat place, but it had heart. At least that was my sense when I wrote this poem about it sometime in the distant recesses of baseball past:

Everything recedes
with the dying sun
in my rear-view mirror
as I drive east on 8
over the mountains
into the desert,
losing myself
in AM radio–
the stupid talk shows,
Norteno music,
and yesterday’s ball scores.

I speed past farm workers
milking the last few minutes
of twilight
and an overturned car
by the side of the freeway,
surrounded by spectators
and flashing red lights,
a patrolman inspecting
the face smashed
into the windshield.

Like a Warhol death,
I think, and drive faster,
trying to make Yuma
before the first pitch.

Across the Colorado
I exit on 4th Street,
drive past lowriders
bouncing their cars,
the Yuma Cabana Motel,
a dimly-lit diner with signs
for pancakes
and Texas-style chili.

I roll down the window
for fresh desert air,
rich with the promise
of Friday night
and it all makes me wish
I could forget and remember
the old pastoral dream
of easy belief
and unspoken yearning
in cardboard boxes
full of hotdogs and beer cans,
the living crowd
crammed into the bleachers,
the beautiful symmetry
of the diamond
and fresh green grass.

All the meaningless rituals
that are never enough–
tapping cleats with the bat
between pitches,
stepping out of the box,
trying to decipher the signs.

And in these dark times, the meaningless rituals of the game seem even more quaint, out of step with the current manic American race toward some undisclosed looming catastrophe.

They are never enough but we cling to them nevertheless, struggling to find a simple moment of grace.

ABOUT THE SUMMER CHRONICLES – In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil. As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.” As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.” It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe. Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector. So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

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