Take a quick poll: What is New York? You’re likely to encounter a range of answers: New York is always a good idea. New York is so expensive. New York is the center of everything. New York is overrated. New York is my home.
For me, early in my tenure, New York has been something of a puzzle. I moved here because I wanted to write, and I was (foolishly) hopeful that merely inserting myself into the city’s rarefied atmosphere of arts and culture would prove more than enough to get the ideas, and subsequently the ink, flowing freely. So I quit my job in Austin, packed my apartment and the cats into a truck, and moved into a shoebox of a studio apartment with Mary Cate, who was crazy and brave and lovely enough to have the same idea.
And then the wheels fell off. I stressed out about rent and job prospects and living expenses, and took a miserable retail job at a bookstore that shan’t be named, which effectively handcuffed my free time, my creativity, and my energy. I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t seeing the city. I had taken a leap of faith by moving here, then switched tacks and let stress and fear control my decision-making. So I quit, and went out to buy a 30-day MetroCard with Mary Cate, who was crazy and brave and lovely enough to have the same idea. (Say what you will about our schemes, but there’s no denying that we two are cut from the same kooky cloth.)
We spent the next month traveling the boroughs on a cultural blitz of museums and parks. And we did one other thing – something that has been part of my life since I was a young boy. We went to a baseball game.
Baseball defined my summers as a child. I grew up in Wisconsin, playing in pee-wee leagues, cheering for the Milwaukee Brewers, and begging my dad to use his fancy professor’s laminator to make homemade baseball cards with bloated and fictitious little league statistics that would have placed me in the lofty company of Mays, Gehrig, and Aaron. Some of my brightest memories involve driving to ballgames at old County Stadium with my mom and dad, sometimes stopping at the Milwaukee Public Museum before making our way up to the stands. Some things change, but I guess some things really do stay the same.
All of which is to say that, to me, the ballpark is a hallowed place. I love the patterned grass in the outfield, the smell of peanuts, the slow and reverent pace of the game. I love the obvious things – the crack of the bat, the thud of ball on glove. I even love the egregious things. I can be obsessively thrifty, but put me in a ballpark and I’ll happily fork over $11.25 for craft beer in a souvenir plastic cup. What’s that? It’s dishwasher safe? We’ll take two!
I still keep close tabs on my hometown heroes, and was pleased to see the Brewers roll into Citi Field to take on the New York Mets in late May. I mentioned it to Mary Cate one morning, and we were clambering into our box seats the next day. It’s a nice ballpark, out in Flushing, Queens, about an hour’s train ride from our Manhattan apartment. We entered through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, walked Shea Bridge, and marveled at the Home Run Apple, which pops out of center field with incongruous speed whenever a Met gets ahold of one.
The game itself was fairly typical. My beloved Brew Crew are currently in the process of building for the future. I prefer that term to the ubiquitous “rebuilding,” both for narrative purposes and because, as the Brewers have never won a World Series, it can successfully be argued that there’s nothing for them to re-build. This is a polite way to say that they’re not very good. They’re expected to lose a lot of games over the next few years in the pursuit of a brighter tomorrow. This may sound as though it makes for pretty dreary viewing, and the Brewers’ 3-1 loss at the hands of Noah Syndergaard and the Mets (that’s Syndergaard, darling, not Kierkegaard) was admittedly quite cut and dry – the Brew Crew never had a chance. But it can be fun rooting for a losing team. There are so many storylines spinning around. Player X is finally starting to put everything together. Player Y could be traded in a month for top prospects. Player Z is tearing up the minor leagues, offering a heady glimpse at what might come. And baseball games move slowly enough that there’s always plenty of time to chat.
It’s the chat that I’ll remember most about this particular May afternoon. There we were, two twenty-somethings talking about our hopes and dreams against the backdrop of the world’s grandest stage. This is something that connects us with many of the young men who manned the field that day for the Brewers. They chased their dream through sleepy minor league towns, through successes and failures, through the streets of America, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic…. Watching the Brewers’ young players trying to find their footing in the big leagues, I realized something – in a sense, I’m building for the future, too. We all are. Me, Mary Cate, and the Brewers. We’ve traded away some comfortable things – mainly square footage, in my case – for an opportunity to do something bigger, something brighter. And where better to do something big or bright than New York City, the wonderful, expensive, unmatched center of my everything?