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A Baseball Odyssey, Part One

I awoke last Saturday to a phosphorescent glow pouring through the windows, the mixture of weak sunlight and stale white fog, a weather grown tired of itself and everything. It was a dead morning, a morning for weak instant coffee and textbooks, the kind Roy Hobbs would see out of a train window, the kind where even a boy in a Bradbury story grows old.

It was on such a sickly January morning that I stared out into the wilderness of my own uncut lawn and thought: “Yes, today. Today is the day. I shall go and carve life out of this lingering low pressure front, and drink from its sap.” I would go, I decided, on a baseball pilgrimage.

I already knew my destination: the old Sick’s Stadium, nestled in the heart of South Seattle. It was the home of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League and, for one magical season, the Seattle Pilots. I took my copy of Ball Four, a camera, a can of Rainier Beer to pour out for my baseball ancestors, and some mittens.

The voyage was a treacherous one, and like the pilgrims of misspelled British sagas of yore, I endured innumerable hardships. I had to scrape the ice off my car windows and got caught at no less than five consecutive red lights. My soul was tested, and I turned from Dearborn Avenue onto Rainier stronger, wiser, and somewhat colder than ever before. The check-cashing places and sausage outlet stores rolled past my vision until finally my destination crept above the horizon.

Sick’s Stadium.

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Here I was, standing in the outfield of Historic Sick’s Stadium, facing the Lowe’s hardware store that now occupied its holy ground. The carcasses of rusting shopping carts littered the broken pavement, the itinerant workers talked in bursts of fog through fingerless gloves. An empty Big Gulp rolled by on a windless breeze. I wondered if the ghosts of old ballplayers still haunt its concrete aisles, spitting aimlessly and leering at young women in bonnets.

Around the back corner of the building, I found the landmark that marked the end of my quest. It was here that men came to pay their respects and, probably with greater regularity, to urinate.

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Inside the Lowe’s #0004, I spoke to the first employee I asked the first employee I saw where I might fight home plate.

“Someone told me this once!” she answered, pleased to find some value in her training. She pointed me to a display with a couple of old hats, some photographs, a couple of schedules. Dust had worked itself inside the fiberglass case, adding sepia to the recent past. But the plate-shaped museum was created by laymen, pointed the wrong direction, facing the street.

I ran the bases in my own mind, jogging between hinges and pipe fittings, beneath the summer glow of overhead lamps. From the noises of machinery I heard the doglike yip of Joe Schultz, the growls of Sal Maglie, the slow drawl of Fred Hutchinson. I imagined Bouton and Marshall in the bullpen, playing chess on a miniature board. I ran until I noticed one of the staff talking into a walkie-talkie.

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I planted both feet into an imaginary home plate in the concrete floor, purchased a pair of vise grips, and went back to my car. I left Sick’s Stadium, now a hardware store, and went home to drink a Rainier brewed in California. And as I drank, I watched the fog burn away.