My Found Memento

foul ballI imagine in times past, bruising men of awesome physical prowess did unfriendly battle to the sounds of metal clanked, flesh ripped, and groans sorrowed.  I imagine implements of war negotiated the redistribution of fragrant lands and tawny buxom women.  I imagine after such skirmishes, locals scoured the battlefield, littered with future artifacts and present suffering, in search of sanguine trinkets to prove they had witnessed a mighty clash of opposing wills.

spib logoOne thing I did not imagine, today in St. Petersburg, during action between the Netherlands and the Pittsburgh Pirates split squad, was a seamed and spinning orb originating at home plate and cutting a parabolic path ending just above the Al Lang Field press box.  Ball met wall, then dropped at my feet, conspiring with gravity to narrowly miss the clutch of my proven and outstretched fingers.

I also did not imagine Michael McKenry bludgeon a ball over the outfield wall.  Nor did I imagine Robbie Grossman knocking a lead-off triple to deep left field.  Then I, with my found memento, drove home to tell the tale.

—————————————————–

Collective Memories and First Impressions of Al Lang Stadium

Sometimes rummaging through YouTube can seem like a giant electronic flea market filled with too many odd things.  Things you don’t want, things you certainly don’t want to buy, things you wish you had never seen.  Then, if you’re lucky you might happen upon something wonderful, something unexpectedly pleasing, or something priceless.  The video below is one of those things.

About a year ago, I heard about several exhibition baseball games that were scheduled to be played in February and March of 2011 at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.  I had heard about this baseball field many times, but had never been there.  They said it was old and no longer used for anything.  They said years ago it used to be the spring training home for one baseball team or another.  Then finally, its last tenant moved on to a modern baseball park for spring training and Al Lang Field was abandoned.   It was a shame, they said.  It’s so pretty there next to the water, with the bay view and the ocean breeze.

So, I decided to go see these games.  Before I entered the ballpark for the first time, I took a look around outside to see what the place was like.  Walking through the parking lot, I surprised myself by appreciating those noisy leaf blowers I usually hate so much.  I saw many puddles of collecting oak leaves, which gave the entrance a neglected feel, unlike the unnaturally clean entrance of newer ballparks.  I saw the many bronzed home plate-shaped plaques adorning the entrance and reminding visitors this had once been a special place.

To the left of the box office was some kind of an alcove, perhaps a service entrance, behind a metal fence which was closed shut.  Through the fence I saw a huge sign just sitting there, with the words “Minor League Baseball” written in that cursive baseball style used on so many teams’ jerseys.  On the sign there was an image of a batter in the follow-through of his swing.  At least that’s how I remember it.  I wish I had taken a picture.  I had my camera with me.  I don’t know why I didn’t.  I wondered where the sign used to hang and if any famous ball players had walked beneath it.  Some of those oak leaves formed a puddle around the sign too.

I showed my ticket to the usher and walked up the ramp to the concourse.  There was a sign commemorating former mayor Al Lang and his efforts to bring professional baseball to St. Petersburg.  He looked like a kind man.  Someone had carelessly blocked part of the sign with one of those portable trash bins on plastic wheels that janitors use to collect garbage.  It also seemed like the sign was designed to be backlit from within, but the light was not on for some reason.

On the concourse people were happy.  I overheard one man greet another and ask, “How you doin’?”  The other man responded, beer in hand, “I’m back at Al Lang watching baseball.  I’m doing great!”  He had a big, content smile.

I got my food and walked to my seat.  Its red color had faded from too many years of Florida sunshine.  Everyone was right about the view of the water.  It was beautiful.  Palm trees struggled against the strong winds.  In the distance, parked yachts awaited the return of their owners.  

A group of old men gathered in the infield for the national anthem.  They were dressed all in white.  I didn’t pay attention to the announcer as he described the group to which they belonged.  Maybe they were veterans, or former ball players.  I can’t remember.  I wish I could.  One of the old men took a harmonica out of his pocket and walked slowly to the microphone.  He played the national anthem and it was fantastic.  He went on through the whole song with that harmonica and I remember thinking this was his moment to shine, and he did, magnificently, until the very end when either his lungs or that harmonica failed him.  The missed note wailed sharply through the speakers briefly, but no one thought any less of him.  I hope he is there again this year.

Feb. 28, 2011 Canada vs. Seoul Nexen Heroes, Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg

Feb. 28, 2011 Canada vs. Seoul Nexen Heroes, Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg

————————————————