Isn’t it amazing that even though it’s the first game of the season, the stadium retains the smell of the freshly cut grass, hot dogs, beer, mustard and passion? Old baseball parks are like well-seasoned woks. They retain their smells and sounds from year to year with the ghosts of seasons past getting the buildings ready each year, long before the maintenance crews report for the new season. I’ve only been to one or two Opening Day games in my life, but they are certainly something special. Riding the 4 train up to the Bronx, getting a glimpse of the field through the gap in the right field wall and exiting out on to the platform to join the hundreds of like-minded acolytes of America’s game.
“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game.”
Of course, you don’t care that it’s usually pretty chilly and the only questions are hot dog now or later? Both. Beer or soda? Beer (although hot chocolate runs a close second on those chilly evenings early and late in the season). Of course a scorecard is an imperative, even if you don’t plan on keeping score. How else are you going to read up on how Ralph Terry (Yankees, 1956-7 & ’59-’64, WS MVP ’62) has been doing since he retired in 1967? What about those minor leaguers down on the farm that might be lighting it up in the Bronx in a few years? Gotta keep an eye on those kids! The yearbooks are too expensive, but if it’s a particularly good season, maybe you’ll buy one in September, recharge your batteries for the pennant run.
As for Opening Day (it should be a municipal holiday and should always be capitalized) Spring baseball is perhaps the only thing that’s been improved by global warming, as the conditions at the Yankees’ home opener on April 11th are likely to be significantly better than they were about 6 years ago when the Yankees Andy Pettitte pitched in the snow. He won the game, though! This year, as in 2000, the Yankees (yay!) and the Mets (blech!) are both likely to have good teams and may even both win their divisions. Anyone want another Subway Series? Of course you do!
While big league baseball real and in person is a day spent (and spent), this year there’s a chance to get your juices flowing and recover from a long, cold winter in the comfort of the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at the Museum of Modern Art when the somewhat limited but welcome series Baseball and American Culture kicks off its four week run on appropriately enough, Opening Day, April 3rd.
The series is an eclectic group that runs from docs like Aviva Kempner‘s 2000 box office and critical smash The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Viva Baseball, Dan Klores‘ 2005 film about Latinos breaking into professional baseball to two bio pics starring Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as themselves as well as the greatest baseball film ever made (at least according to myself and writer/critic Terrence Rafferty ), Bull Durham.
I called the series limited because there are only 12 films screening, hardly a full representation of baseball’s relation with American culture. Where are the musicals, themselves an important part of our cultural history. I mean, baseball and musicals, they go together like…uh…you get my point. What’s missing? Off the top of my head, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Esther Williams in Busby Berkeley‘s Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) and the classic George Abbot/Stanley Donen tunefest Damn Yankees! (1958). Well, I guess whatever Rabbi wants, Rabbi doesn’t necessarily get.
Across the East River in Brookyn, the BAM Cinématek is presenting It Happened in Brooklyn, running from April 10-24 which includes 1942’s It Happened In Flatbush. Directed by Ray McCarey, a fictional film about the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Much of the game footage in the film was shot during the 1941 World Series.
Monday, April 10 at 4:30, 6:50*, 9:15pm
*An introduction by author John Manbeck and Prof. Joe Dorinson, Chair, History Department, Long Island University will take place before the 6:50pm screening.