Brand building through storytelling

A tourist in the kingdom of baseball

Once long ago when it was far from clear that I would ever get the hang of this thing called marriage, someone older and presumably wiser decided I could use his advice. He had wire-rimmed spectacles (not yet fashionable then), a Scottish accent and an air of professorial confidence in what he had learned about the art of staying together. He passed on his secret as if it were the last chocolate truffle in the box: “Never go to bed angry.”

If you’ve been married long enough to make a joint purchase bigger than a whisk, then I surely don’t have to tell you the old guy was way off base. You have gone to bed nursing the most shamefully trifling grudges against your nearest and dearest. I never imagined, in the first flush of love, that I would ever lie awake replaying a noisy set-to in a lighting fixture store, as if my very identity depended on barring a certain chandelier from our first house. But I did call the thing an atrocity, and I did imply (curled lip, raised brow) that anyone who liked it had no more taste than Liberace, and I did believe, for at least the next 24 hours, that there was something I could have said to establish myself as our resident decorating maven. Sad to say, I must own up to a few other nocturnal rage-fests, yet here we are after 37 years.

So what have we done right as a couple? Let’s avoid the charged subject of compromise, which comes up in all discussions of marriage just as surely as dandelions in summer. I have seen an entire Christmas party divided by a quip that goes like this: “My wife and I have learned to compromise—we talk about our differences and then we do what she wants.” All the men agreed; all the women exchanged bemused looks while vigorously shaking our heads.

Meanwhile no one said a word about a little-known marital art that has nothing to do with right and wrong. It’s about exploration and enjoyment. If you are going to make a life with someone, that person is bound to have a few special pleasures that you don’t share. You find them mystifying or downright boring. But if you don’t at least check them out for yourself, you are refusing to visit a cherished corner of your spouse’s world. This is why I felt moved to check out baseball—and why, on Christmas Day, the book I curled up with was my husband’s brand-new, 785-page copy of The Gigantic Book of Baseball Quotations.

To call my husband a baseball fan would be diminish his passion for the game: the lore, the stats, the personalities. He’d no sooner root for a favourite team than I, as a lover of poetry, would cheer for Emily Dickinson as my favourite poet. So I have stood with him in the cramped house in Baltimore where Babe Ruth was born, and pondered the creases in his childhood catcher’s mitt. I have joined him on a pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I have read Roger Angell‘s classic essay, “On the Ball,” and pronounced it as fine a piece of prose as any I have read. And when the Toronto Blue Jays were on in their glory back when, I went out with the peanuts-and-crackerjack crowd to a fair number of ball games.

I tried, honest. But I never quite got baseball, anymore than my husband got modern dance (he tried, too). The real buffs would be convulsed with excitement at some play or other, and I’d be asking, “Where’s the ball?” I once missed a grand slam home run because I happened to be looking the other way, musing on what to cook for dinner, when the ball went out of the park. Then there was the time I left a game early because the Blue Jays weren’t hitting. Who wanted to watch a bunch of guys standing around? My husband came home crowing at what I’d missed: “Dave Stewart pitched a non-hitter!” He still talks about that no-hitter. As for me, I talk about Kelly Gruber hitting a home run in fog back in 1986, while the other team scurried wildly in search of the ball. Lots of people have seen no-hitters, but how many have witnessed a Keystone Kops moment in the ball park?

I seldom go to ball games anymore. But I can’t resist a quirky character, an inspired joke or colourful turn of phrase. Like any other pursuit that has tapped people’s deepest reserves of ambition, their against-all-odds reaching for perfection, baseball is a grand saga. It has heroes, artists and pranksters. So I lost myself in my husband’s baseball quote book, emerging only to exclaim, “Listen to this!” A few lines I just had to share:

“He walks like a crab, fields like an octopus and hits like the devil.”—unidentified sportswriter on a legendary shortstop of the day

“Slapping a rattlesnake across the face with the back of your hand is safer than trying to fool Henry Aaron.”—a frustrated pitcher

“You can be young once, but you can be immature forever.”—relief pitcher Larry Anderson

“Any baseball is beautiful. No other package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man’s hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose. It is meant to be thrown a considerable distance-thrown hard and with precision.”—Roger Angell

If there’s a baseball fan on your Christmas list, that person would have loved this book. If not, no harm done. As they say in baseball, wait until next year.

Posted by Rona

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