A mother sparrow emerges from her nest atop a newly visible grave, a grave that had been buried in the cruel, gray snow until this afternoon. It is not yet officially spring, but the days are slightly warmer, and a trickle of water—melted snow—snakes past the sparrowess’ home. For months, to hydrate herself, she has been forced to eat the snow, which was confusing to her small and pitiful bird brain. Yet, nature survives. Until it doesn’t. The feathered gal lost her young in a hellish blizzard, a month past. She does not remember this. She is an animal, with a worthless, inept brain, and has no memory nor capacity for abstract thought.
And yet, she feels pain, or something like it. The cruelty of animal existence ensures that pain is integral to the bird’s life. Her heartbeat may have quickened when she returned to her nest to find three dead, featherless chicks, now the color of ash instead of the vital deep pink color they had had when they hatched a few days before. But a bird does not mourn. A bird does not desperately weep after waking from a dream where her brood is still alive and remembering they died earlier that day. A bird moves on. A bird expects death and suffering. Death and suffering are so ingrained in a bird’s existence that she is hardly even aware that they are distinct states of being.
So: a bird emerges from her nest as the snow begins to melt. A bird flies up, and over the cemetery. A family leaving their grandfather’s burial plot watches the bird flutter away. They see it as a sign of life, rebirth. But they do not see the three lifeless baby birds buried in the snow that covers a forgotten grave. The bird, the melting snow, they are not signs of anything.
The bird flies over the graveyard, and away, south, towards a warmer, more forgiving clime. Soon the bird hears the crack of the bat to a ball. The bird does not understand it. But we do.
Baseball is in the air, and it’s all anyone can talk about. Hot dogs sizzle, pea-nuts roast, and heroic men are smashing and slamming their way to glory, devastating any rivals that dare stand in their way.
Much like our bereaved bird, I recently found myself flying south, away from the melting snows of the sleepy northeast, and towards the buzz and excitement of baseball in sunny Orlando, Fla. It is no secret that spring training is my absolute favorite time of year. The anticipation, the good-natured competition, and yes, of course, that wonderful warm feeling that baseball is finally, after a long and frigid off-season, BACK!
My first night in Orlando, I had a horrific nightmare. It was not frightening in a traditional manner. There was none of your usual nightmare content: no ghouls, no being slashed to ribbons with a knife. I was not drowned, nor burnt to death; my mother was not there, nor my wretched sister, and I did not find myself avoiding detection while trying to quickly dispose of a newly created corpse. My dream was more deeply disturbing than such common terrors. The residual shadow of horror that I feel right now is more intense than any waking fear I have ever felt. As I write this, my eyes fill with tears. I cannot say why. I feel that this awful dream was something I was not meant to remember, a part of my consciousness that should never have been unlocked.
In the dream, I awoke in my luxurious suite at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes Orlando (the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes Orlando is not the same as the Marriott you are most likely familiar with. In fact, it is closer to a Ritz-Carlton than a basic Marriott hotel). It was 4 a.m., an hour when no decent man should ever be awake. My body was completely rigid, and I could not move. The temperature in my room was no longer the pleasant 59 degrees at which I had set the thermostat before bed. The air felt oppressively neutral, as if I had been submerged in a pool of amniotic fluid heated to the exact temperature of my own flesh.
I was able to move my neck just enough to look towards the bathroom. A blue light emanated from the open bathroom door. The light was pulsating, rapidly at first, then slowly. I tried to call out for help. No sound would issue from my throat. I then heard the bath running, the steady hissing sound of running water. Suddenly, without transition, I found myself standing, floating across the cream-coloured carpet, not exactly walking, but moving undeniably forward, toward the open bathroom door.
My vision blurred, my ears began to ring, and I heard a wet sound coming from inside the bathroom, a sound like raw chicken cutlets in a porcelain bowl being slowly kneaded by pale hands. A baseball rolled out of the bathroom and came to rest at my feet. I collapsed onto the ground, my own movements out of my control now. I reached out to the ball. As my fingers touched its surface, the blue light became white. The smooth surface of the ball suddenly broke down all at once, collapsing into a pile of congealed blood and macerated flesh.
A small boy emerged from the bathroom. The ringing in my ears became louder. When my eyes focused I saw the boy’s face clearly. It was me, as a child. I watched my childhood self kneel down and begin to eat the gory remains of what moments before had been a baseball. I tried to stand, but my body was paralyzed once more. I watched the boy eat, face to face with him. I watched the dark blood run down his chin. I watched him, I had no choice. I watched myself, until the light began to dim, until the light disappeared, until I was mercifully released from the grip of sleep and terror.
When I awoke, my bedclothes were saturated with sweat, despite the cool temperature of the room. I cowered under the duvet and cried like a child until sunrise.
The games, the games. What can one say about the games? And what would it matter? Baseball is bigger than you or me. Baseball is a spiritual, geometric game. Baseball is my favorite sport! How dare you? Spring training has come and gone, and baseball is back, and everything is fine again.
Welcome to Baseball!
Mr. Baseball is a baseball historian and fan. He lives and works in the United States.