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3:33 Sports Short #61 // At Home by Daiva Markelis

I prefer watching baseball on television rather than in the ballpark. I like seeing pitchers talking to themselves (Did he just use the f-word?) and batters high-fiving each other in the dugout. I enjoy observing the distorted faces of managers as they argue with the umps. Most of all I love viewing the players up close: the big-assed batters who look like short-order cooks, the wiry pitchers with Gumby-like arms, the players too short and skinny to succeed in most other sports. They’re clearly athletes, but they look like younger versions of my dad.  Their faces reveal a roiling sea of emotion I don’t often see in men in real life, at least not in the space of two and a half hours: anger, disgust, worry, hope, relief, vulnerability, gratitude, and elation.

In 2005, the year the White Sox won the World Series, I began to dream about baseball players: gentle finesse-pitcher Mark Buehrle; wily bad-boy catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Mostly, though, I dreamt of manly Paul Konerko, the White Sox first baseman. In my dreams he told me he desired as his life’s companion not his young, good-natured wife, but a crabby, premenopausal woman. The dreams always ended with his wife busting in on us, shocked not so much that Pauly was in bed with another woman, but that the woman happened to be me.   

I told my husband about these dreams: honesty is important in a marriage. Marty was not happy. I reminded him that I first came to understand the great American pastime in his cluttered apartment. I’d grown up in an arid, baseball-less world—my Lithuanian immigrant parents had no faith in the redeeming power of sports. Marty, remote in hand, explained the basics. Again and again. Lesson One involved balls, strikes, and outs. We moved on to batting order in Lesson Two. The terms leadoff man, cleanup man, designated hitter, and pinch hitter entered my vocabulary. I had my first baseball epiphany—who’s sitting and who’s hitting depends on the strengths and weaknesses of any given batter as well as on who’s pitching for the other team.

Perhaps the most challenging concept, and one I still struggle with today, involved the different kinds of pitches and their possible effects on the batter: fastballs, breaking balls, change-ups, curves, sinkers, splitters. Marty replayed the pitches, sometimes quizzing me.

“Name that pitch,” he’d say.

“Breaking slider?”

You can’t do that at a ballpark.

I do go to Cellular Field sometimes to support my Sox. I can appreciate elements of play I could formerly grasp only on television—the inexpressible splendor of the double play, for example. I buy an over-priced hot dog and fiddle with my sunglasses. And then I begin to wonder whether the pitcher is muttering under his breath—you can’t tell, even with great seats—and whether the rookie batter looks vulnerable or determined or anxious, or some combination of the three.

Daiva Markelis’s creative nonfiction and short stories have appeared in the New Ohio Review, Cream City Review, American Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Pank, Oyez, Other Voices, and many others. Several of her works have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her memoir, White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life, was published by the University of Chicago Press. She teaches creative writing at Eastern Illinois University and is the creative nonfiction editor of Bluestem.