Yesterday, an old man in a red Phillies cap booed me.
It wasn’t a nasty, guttural boo. Not the kind of boo Philadelphia sports fans are notorious for. Not the kind of boo reserved for the Dallas Cowboys or Sidney Crosby or Santa Claus.
No, it was a soft, almost sweet, lip-slightly parted boo. The kind of boo you reserve for mild antagonists like under-cooked pizza or dead remote control batteries.
The boo came during the 3rd inning of Chase’s baseball game. A game played under the kind of American sky baseball was invented for. Soft sunshine. A high blue sky. Tumbles of white clouds.
A pitch was thrown, a bat was swung, and a baseball drifted over the first base fence toward me. Seated in one of those cheap, collapsible sideline chairs I extended both arms out in front of me, made a bowl with my hands and waited.
History suggests the act of booing dates back to ancient Greek plays. If the play failed to entertain, the wine-guzzling audience would jeer at the actors’ performance. And if the boos thundered into loud, extended “BOOOOOOs” the actors were ushered off stage and the play was often never performed again.
And though Philadelphia didn’t invent the boo, the impulse to boo has been encoded into our regional DNA. When someone, or something, is not fulfilling its potential, we boo.
History also suggests Philadelphia’s reputation for booing originated in 1930, when at Game Two of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the A’s, President Herbert Hoover was introduced at Shibe Park and according to The New World Telegram, was met with “a vigorous, full-rounded melody of disparagement.”
Aside from having the guts to introduce myself to Cindy, my second greatest adolescent achievement was catching a homerun ball during the 1996 MLB Homerun Derby at Veterans Stadium. It was a muggy July afternoon when Brady Anderson, outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, hit a towering homerun down the right field line toward me. I reached out, and by gravity and fate, the baseball fell into my glove. And why wouldn’t it. I was young and naive and believed everything would always be in my reach.
Later that night, using a-thing-called-a VCR, I recorded what I forever etched in my private mythology as “The Catch.”
(If you don’t believe me, here is video evidence. At the 1.30.18 mark Brady Anderson hits his first homerun. I’m sitting in the right field Club Box above the Budweiser sign. I’m wearing a black t-shirt with a white hat.)
The hardest thing for me to accept right now is that I can no longer physically do some things I once did. Forget riding a two-wheeled bike. Forget skiing. Forget diving in the ocean. Steps are a problem. Walking while holding a full glass of water is a problem. Catching a baseball is certainly a problem. Yes, I know age diminishes abilities. But this is different. There’s an unnatural disharmony, a failed connection between body and mind. My brain speaks a language my body no longer understands. This often leaves me feeling frustrated, like a stranger in a strange land, and yearning for a time when brain and body were in sync. When the promise of everything was just within reach.
The baseball floats over the high chain-link fence. I shift my weight in my cheap chair. Because old instincts die hard, I reach out my hands. The ball falls toward me. Gravity and fate intersect again. But this time, the ball bounces off my hands and tinkles across the soft, green grass.
The old man in the Phillies hat lets out a soft, “Boooo.”
Maybe I deserved the heckle. Maybe I didn’t. But being a Philadelphia native, I know the boo is an abrupt way of saying, “C’mon you can do better.” And maybe I can. Maybe I can do a better job of letting go of the past and accepting what I can’t control. Like gravity and fate. Like Cerebellar Atrophy. Like an old man’s disapproval.
And so on a perfect American evening, the uncaught baseball sits in a blade of sunlight, like so many things now, just out of reach.
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