Opening Day!

GettyImages_133927261_dxtgntw7_3k33x4wl.jpgIt’s 5AM and I can’t sleep. Why? Because it’s Major League baseball’s Opening Day today! It’s the best day of the year for many Americans, and especially New Englanders (or ex-pat New Englanders). It’s a day that signals both the end of winter and the impending joys of summer.  However, this year the happy distraction takes on new meaning. Many of us, myself included, will DEPEND on that distraction, hoping to bring some moments of joy and exultation even while we struggle in this new, harsh Trumpian existence. So I thought in honor of this first Opening Day of the Age of Depression and Anger, I’d post an essay I wrote and, subsequently, performed, almost a decade ago. It was Opening Day of 2008, when one could still reflect solely on the joys of baseball and the memories they conjure:

Take Me Out… (March, 2008)

Ask anyone I know to list the three most prominent adjectives about me, and I imagine you might hear several different adjectival combinations. But I am quite certain that the one consistent thing you’ll find would be the following:

An obsession with the Boston Red Sox that borders on lunacy.

In fact, several times a day I’ll walk up to a total stranger who happens to be wearing a Red Sox cap, initiate a fist-bump and exclaim “Go Sox!” Whenever my long time friend Suzy witnesses this behavior, she screams out, “You’re sick! It’s a sickness! It is. There’s no denying it.

I was brainwashed while still in nursery school, when my family and I were living in West Hartford, Ct. My father grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium and in spite of a deep devotion to the Bombers, was able to find it within himself to make the ultimate sacrifice and allow my older brothers and I to root for his arch-rivals.

My brothers, Bobby and Howie – 7 & 5 years my seniors, respectively – were lean, athletic, good-looking and very popular stars on their Little League team, Kiwanis, when I was 5. Mr. Palmer, Kiwanis’s coach since the early 50’s, was about six foot three, had shocking white hair and was very still. As my folks and I would go to Kiwanis games to watch Bobby and then Howie play third base I remember thinking that someday I’ll be the best ball player Mr. Palmer has ever seen.

This was 1969, and while my parents shuttled us all to Anti-War rallies, kept the jumbo-sized edition of “The Joy of Sex” on the coffee table, and thrust jazz, ballet and Mozart down or gullets with extreme regularity, my brothers had crew cuts, were Red Sox fanatics, wore Chuck Taylors and wanted to be the next Yaz, Reggie Smith, or Tony Conigliaro.  Being the youngest, and despite being huskier and less naturally gifted athletically, I tried desperately to be exactly like them.

As the years passed and my opportunity to play ball got closer, I did develop other non-Red Sox related interests. I played piano and then viola. I took my first acting class at a YMCA when I was 7. I discovered that kissing girls was incredibly exciting at about 8.

My obsession with football began and then intensified. In the fall of 1973, at age 9, I was the first Singer boy allowed to play organized football. I was the center, the cornerstone of the offensive line, the anchor of protection for the QB and running back. Of course, at that age this meant I would hike the ball to the quarterback and immediately fall down. It was a failed experiment since my parents, watching me get stomped on play after play, found it as an affirmation that their worries of an impending fatal injury were well founded. It was, however, notable for the discovery that my head was enormous. So big, I had to miss the first three games while I waited for an adult-sized helmet to be custom-made.

That same year, it also became apparent that I was the most sensitive kid in the Greater Hartford Metro area, if not all of New England and New York combined. I cried at the drop of a hat. Not on cue – in other words – not to get what I wanted or make an impression (that skill would be learned later). No, I cried that heavy “cry-baby” cry. I FELT pain in every form and let everyone around me know I was feeling it. This was a distinct disadvantage to a husky young lad trying to follow in the footsteps of his ultra-popular, all-star everything, skinny brothers. It was so bad that I used to get beat up during recess by the attractive tomboy, Nora O’Brien. She would punch me in the face, and while it didn’t really hurt, I would get so frustrated that I couldn’t do anything in retaliation since you can’t hit a girl. My face would turn beet-red and I would sob and everyone would laugh and laugh. Later she would confess to having a huge crush on me. Ahh, women. As a young teen, I eventually learned to make them all laugh BEFORE I got hit, but that came later.

When the spring of 1974 arrived, I couldn’t wait to try out for Kiwanis. I felt if I could just show the other kids how good a ballplayer I was, it would keep them from laughing at me, or, at least stop them from hitting me. My father was the Assistant Superintendant of the Public School system and at that same critical moment had decided to begin his search for a Superintendency of his own. Word got out that he was looking and I was not allowed to try out since all the teams were afraid I would move out of town at the beginning of the season. Alas, I would have to suffer through another year of viola, singing, no Little League and, of course, crying.

My Dad did not leave that year, but I went to the games anyway, wistfully watching the inferior athletes playing my third base position. I did, however begin a torrid, romance with Melanie Landsman that same summer. Melanie was a first generation cockney Londoner who scared the hell out of all the other girls and most of the guys and people sort of left me alone.  But since I had not EARNED the respect I was looking for, on the playing field, playground or at home, my desire to be on Kiwanis burned brighter than ever.

The following year, spring approached and I KNEW this would be the year. My Dad HAD gotten that job in another city, but because of Mom’s career, Dad commuted. Again, no team wanted to take a chance we might move, but my now 16-year-old brother, Howie still possessed some sway with Mr. Palmer. He convinced him to let me tryout, and soon I found myself fielding fungos, taking batting practice and competing for one of the two spots available to eleven year olds.

Luckily, I shared my brother’s innate abilities in the field. I could get to the balls gracefully and throw on a dime. My hitting, while suspect, was far from the worst and it became pretty apparent that I was one of the two best 11-year-olds trying out. Four days later, it was final cut day. We all sat on the grass, intently waiting for Mr. Palmer to announce the names of those who had made the squad. Like Gregory Peck, he stood in front of all of, stoically telling us how hard we had all worked and how he wished everyone could make the team. We all thought, “yeah, right…get ON with it!” He began to read the list of names. I heard the 10-year-olds names, my mind wandering as I imagined finally wearing the maroon cap with the white capitol “K” on it, the sun beating down on us as we took batting practice, then the amplified introduction, “At third base, Jason Singer” and the cheer that would follow from my Dad and brothers. How I would turn double plays with ease and maybe even get an important hit once in a while. I was smiling. I was smelling the grass in the air and it intoxicated me. Mr. Palmer announced  the 11-year-olds. I waited… and… waited… and then he spoke the names of the 12-year-olds. My name…he didn’t say my name. Why had my name not been called?

Everyone kinda looked around, wondering how it was I didn’t make the team, except for the kid who was worse than me who did. He was pumping his fist and jumping around. I sat stunned. Mr. Palmer walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I really wish I had a spot for you. I had to go with the best players. I’m sorry.” I nodded and thanked him.

I started to walk home. I couldn’t believe I had to go another year without baseball, that when I arrived home I would have to tell my brothers I hadn’t made the team…that I would be the only Singer not to play on Kiwanis, that I was a failure.

It was the one time I managed to wait until I got home to cry, but when I did, I sobbed as never before. I felt as if the world was telling me that I would never succeed, that there was a conspiracy against my happiness. That no matter how hard I worked and wanted something, it would remain just out of reach. It was the loneliest I have ever felt.

That summer I continued to go to games, rooting the team on, trying to gain back some sense of belonging. There was community in the act of yelling, “Hey batter, hey batter, SWING!” even if it lacked the sense of authenticity and power that came from saying it on the field of play.

On June 23rd, I was at a game and mentioned to Mr. Palmer that it was my birthday. He said, “Happy Birthday! So, 13! That’s pretty close to being a man

I looked at him, first confused, then, with a faint feeling of nausea developing in my gut, I said, with some hesitation, “No, I’m 12, Mr. Palmer”.

He looked back at me, first very confused, then a little sad and said, “I thought you WERE 12”.

The words came up through a bone dry throat as it started to dawn on me why I hadn’t made the team.

“Nope, I’m 12 today”

“Oh my. Well, I’m sorry, Jason. When your brother asked me to let you try you out he said you were twelve.”

Later, when I asked Howie why he told Mr. Palmer I was 12, he shrugged and said, “I thought you were 12. What’s the big deal?” The big deal, while perhaps obvious to him now (even if, for the record, he now denies having played ANY part in this tragedy), was not on the forefront of his 16-year-old brain. I believe he was more interested in the juggernaut that was the 1975 Red Sox that summer than in assuaging the anger of his cry-baby brother.

I’d like to say that I found solace in the knowledge that I was better than all the eleven year-olds, that if not for a tiny piece of miscommunication, I would have probably started at third base, just like my big brothers. But I found nothing but despair in the entire existential fuck-up. Especially when those same Red Sox lost the World Series to the Reds that ensuing October as Joe Morgan’s bloop single fell in front of Fred Lynn in Game 7.

The joke that someone seemed to be having on my life was getting bigger and more profoundly pointed. I began to see that life was much more out of my control than a 12-year-old should ever know. It wasn’t just finding out there was no Santa, it was more like mistakenly walking into a break room at a mall and seeing Santa having sex with the Easter bunny. Well, as a Jew, maybe that’s a strange analogy. I guess it was more like electing W to a second term. Crazy. Unbelievable. Heartbreaking. And out of my control.

My adolescence gave way to high school, college and adulthood – my fortunes eerily mirroring those of the Sox:

1978: The Red Sox blow a 14 game lead in late August, losing a one-game playoff to the Yankees on Bucky fucking Dent’s eighth inning bullshit HR. That same year, our family moved to Long Island and I won the starting varsity goalie position, only to get mono, lose it, and never get it back again.

1986: Two outs in the ninth inning of the World Series against the Mets…Bill Buckner…enough said. Or rather, all I care to say. That same year, I graduated college and my first show was with Brian Dennehy at the Goodman. I was elated. Two weeks into the run I was wrongly accused of racism and never asked to audition again.

1999: Yankees and Sox meet in the playoffs for the first time. Game 4 at Fenway. Knoblauch missed the tag, but the Ump, Tim Tschida, called Jose Offerman out anyway, ending a big inning. We never recovered and lost the series. One month later, my second engagement ended when my fiancé fell for another man while I was on a Broadway tour.

2003: ALCS Game 7. A sure win until Grady Little kept Pedro in too long and Aaron F-in’ Boone hit a Series walk-off homer. I was there. It sucked. Months later my next fiancé decided she would rather marry a doctor than an actor. I was there. It sucked.

Each of those years – hard work, expectations and anticipation, only to end up in sometimes crazy, often unbelievable, and always heartbreaking disappointment. Just as on that May afternoon in 1975, when I was certain I had done enough to make the team, both the Red Sox and I would regularly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

That is, until 2004, when, wonder of wonders, it happened to someone else. About the same time Johnny Damon hit his Grand Slam in the 2nd inning of Game 7 completing the greatest playoff comeback in North American sports history, the existential fog began to lift. A month earlier, I had moved to Los Angeles and within weeks of winning the first World Series in 86 years, I began to successfully reap the benefits of my own personal and professional hard work.

I have a vanity license plate I ordered right after the Sox won that Series. It took me over three hours to find a suitable plate abbreviation that hadn’t already been taken. I finally arrived at “BOSOX WN” – Bosox Won. I could’ve easily gotten “AROD SUX” or “YNKS BLO”, but I desperately wanted my car’s moniker to be about our success, MY success, and not about how much the Yankees’ history-making choke proved that they do indeed suck big fat cock. (sorry – it really is a vague form of Turrets)

There is a large contingent of Yankee fans that regularly proclaim, “Big deal. We have 26 championship rings. You have 6.” Entitled pricks that they are, they completely miss the point. The Yankees are the greatest team in the history of baseball, if not sport. I have no problem saying that. But no matter what happens in the future, I will always seek out strangers wearing a Sox-cap, embarrass my friends and proclaim “Go Sox”.

So, no, I may have never played for Kiwanis, but the “BOSOX WN”, and, at last, so did I! Even Mr. Palmer can’t deny me that.

_________________________________________________________________

This YouTube video celebrates the greatest & most important catch in Red Sox history (and during the same year the story above takes place) by my dog’s namesake and my favorite player of all time…Dwight Evans:

Written 05/03/2017

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