Friday, April 28, 2006

A Rite of Spring





When most people think of organized team sports anymore, they can't help but think of millionaire players and greedy owners and drug scandals and overpriced everything – from the cost of seats to $40 t-shirts  (we won’t even mention $5 hot dogs and $10 beers).  But the games were not always this way – and especially baseball


Baseball is by far my favorite sport, because when you take the time to learn and watch it, baseball is actually a gigantic game of chess.  Chess played by large men who spit and scratch too much, of course, but chess nonetheless .  There is a kind of poetry to all the subtle maneuvers constantly taking place throughout the field – all amidst a deceiving leisurely-ness without the disruption of a clock - that appeals to my soul more than any game with more apparent ‘action’.


Because of this, I’ve spent a fair amount of time learning about the game and its history – reading of the men who played it for the joy of the sport rather than the lavish lifestyle and out-sized paychecks.  One of those men was Raymond Chapman, a talented and very popular man who played shortstop for the Cleveland Indians from 1912 to 1920.


'Chappie' had it all – he was a natural leader with an even more natural smile, excellent athletic ability, nearing the peak of his career with an exciting and talented team, a beautiful new bride at home - and his first child on the way.  And then one day in August of 1920 he dug into the batter’s box in New York and faced a pitcher named Carl Mays. 


This was before the days of batting helmets and body armor - and pitchers, especially Mays, were not shy about throwing inside.  Chapman squared to bunt and Mays threw a pitch that sailed directly toward his head - hitting him squarely in the left temple……. 


Ray Chapman died the following day – the only Major Leaguer ever killed by a pitched ball.


The team, the city, and fans of baseball everywhere were in mourning for the loss of this popular young player.  Mays was vilified and left baseball soon thereafter despite lack of any evidence that the pitch was intentional.  School children throughout Cleveland collected pennies and nickels – and donated them so that Chappie would have a fitting headstone on his grave – the stone pictured at the top of this entry.   The Indians faltered, but re-grouped near the end of the season and celebrated Ray Chapman’s life in the best way they knew how – they captured the World Series title that same fall, dedicating it to his memory.




For more years than I can count, on or about Opening Day of each baseball season - as winter recedes and life blooms anew - I make my way to this gravesite.  Like many others, I leave a small talisman behind as a tribute to the past and a prayer for the future.  Some years the sky is grey and threatening.  Some years its blue and crystal clear.  But with baseball, as in life, this time of year always brings hope and renewal – and I like to imagine that somewhere, on a sunny field of emerald turf and carefully-groomed soil,  a youthful Ray Chapman still slickly fields ground balls, his smile wide and his laughter clear in the cool, crisp air of eternal Spring.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Helping Nature Along.....






Living in a wooded setting provides more blessings than one can count – but can also bring experiences unimagined by those who live surrounded by more concrete than trees.   Some of those experiences bring instant smiles, others tug at the heartstrings – and then there is the case of the suicidal robin……


The picture above is a view of the front of my home, which is unlikely to win any house beautiful awards at present.  No, there is no remodeling project going on, nor have I tried to take steps to bolster a case for a lower tax appraisal on the property.


About a week ago, I was awakened just after dawn by the sound of something hitting the bedroom window, hard.  It was a sharp thudding sound, enough to cause me to sit bolt upright in bed and attempt to make sense of it as sleep still clouded my thoughts.  There was no immediate follow-up, so I lay back down and closed my eyes.  Shortly thereafter, however, it was there again – followed quickly in succession by three or four more.  I rolled over and grabbed my glasses – just in time to see a male robin literally flinging his body with abandon against the bedroom window repeatedly.  Sometimes he would hit more with his feet and scratch at the glass for a few moments as he hovered in the air; other times he would simply take a flying start and crash chest first against the glass.


I watched in amazement for a time and then, as quickly as he had started, he disappeared.


Later in the morning, however, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw him back.  From this side view I could better gauge the force with which he would hit the glass, drop to the porch floor long enough to regroup and then launch himself again.  Occasionally he would rest by sitting quietly on the ledge at the corner of the window, intently peering inside for long periods of time and appearing docile and unperturbed by what he saw – only to then again renew his assault only moments later.


Fearing that he would ultimately hurt himself, I tried to alter his view by cracking the window open a bit and changing the angle, hoping that he was seeing his own reflection and that the different perspective would take the ‘target’ away.  When that didn’t work, I tried closing the blinds, followed by re-opening them and leaving a light on in the room.  None of these solutions worked, however, and the process repeated for several days – always beginning just after dawn and repeating for periods throughout the day until early evening.


Worried for the bird’s health (and the state of my window), I ventured out onto the porch – after first assuring myself that he was nowhere in sight – and found the general area in less-than-attractive condition.  In addition to hundreds of small greasy marks on the glass, the ledge and the porch floor appeared as you might expect them to after a bird had spent significant time encamped in the vicinity.  So I got the hose and the Windex and searched the garage for a sheet of plastic that had once served as a drop cloth from some long-ago painting project.  I affixed the plastic so that it covered the entire window, secured it top and bottom and stood back to admire my ‘handiwork’.  It was ugly as sin but serviceable – and I hoped it would solve the problem.


For three days, there was no sign of him or any telltale marks of his presence when I was not around to watch.  I congratulated myself on my ingenuity and on saving this poor tortured creature from his own delusions.  The view through the bedroom window was ruined for now, but I suspected that I only needed a few days to change his behavior and that soon all would be right with nature and the world once more.  Until yesterday morning – when the by now all-too-familiar thud awakened me again, but this time from the bathroom window NEXT to the covered bedroom window!


This bird was resourceful if misguided, but I wasn’t going to let more time pass before taking further action, so I crafted a covering of newspaper this time and have placed that over this second window in hopes he’ll finally get the message and either find a more productive and less-painful way to spend his days – or at least find someone else’s windows to help fulfill his masochistic tendencies.


For now, I appear to have the upper hand – but in the back of my mind I envision every window in the entire house wrapped in some sort of covering before this particular drama reaches its natural conclusion.  I ask your prayers for this poor silly creature – and if anyone knows the number of a good avian psychologist, I’ll take that too!