Summertime, when the living is easy — assuming the Bermuda high cooperates and lets hurricanes go someplace else.
It means that baseball can settle into its hammock, that sweet spot that comes after the NBA playoffs and before the NFL season. For me, that means semi-regular trips to Roger Dean Stadium to watch the Jupiter Hammerheads and whatever other Florida State League team they might be playing.
I don’t have a lot of company — a couple of hundred people, usually, in a stadium that’s often packed with six or seven thousand people during spring training to watch the Cardinals and, to a lesser extent, the Marlins. Last Saturday, for the “Swings and Wings” night at the park, there might have been 500 people. Which is just fine with me.
I’ve always liked baseball a great deal, but I’ve pondered long and hard over why I’ve developed a special affection for minor league baseball. I think I’ve got it figured out:
Nothing’s at stake.
Granted, this isn’t true for the players, who are betting that three or four years of working for a thousand dollars a month will pay off in millions down the road. But in the largest sense, it’s true.
We live in a time where everything from the birth of a future king of England to the latest lunacy to pop out of Kanye West’s mouth or loins is freighted with ridiculous, if temporary significance. (Given the eerie longevity of the members of the House of Windsor, the poor kid might be in a wheelchair before he gets the job he was born for).
But in the summer at Roger Dean, nothing’s really at stake. You can tell nothing’s at stake because arguments between managers and umpires are rare — nobody has to showboat for the cameras.
I also like it because it’s single A ball, the lowest rung of the minor leagues, which means that there is no such thing as a routine play. Any average ground ball is an even bet to result in comedy gold, and nobody much minds. Why? Because nothing’s at stake.
I like it because there is an absence of the carnival-loud bells and whistles that inevitably accompany modern professional sports, presumably to keep everybody awake and divert attention from the fact that a lot of the players are juicing. Minor league ball is just nine guys playing defense against one guy playing offense, which has always struck me as a perfect ratio. Most of these guys are kids on their way up or guys standing still. (Ed Lucas aside, if you’re 25 years old and batting .245 in Single A ball, you should probably give serious consideration to Plan B, unless your parents have permanently partitioned off their basement for your living quarters.)
But every year, there are 25 year-old guys who slam away at an objective that common sense tells them is receding faster than they can run. I like their bullheadedness. There’s something profoundly human about it, and if they succeed it might just be because they refuse to fail.
Personally, a quiet night at the ball park restores something you might call psychological clarity. This is what life used to be like before the media boom box descended into our lives.
Theoretically, I could enjoy college games for the same reason, but aluminum bats wreck it for me — the sound effect is a lot like the sound of Moe sticking his fingers in Curly’s eyes.
I realize that there are those for whom the point of athletics is excellence of competition, i.e. the major leagues, and for those people I recommend a trip to Miami to watch the Marlins in the current stage of their perpetual rebuilding, until it is inevitably interrupted by their equally perpetual salary dump.
But in the heat of summer nights, the sound of crickets chirping interspersed with the occasional crack of a bat is just what I want.
Because there’s nothing at stake.
Each Saturday this summer, we are writing about what we love about South Florida’s hottest, stickiest months.
Next week: Larry Aydlette on the glory of shade.