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The Ball Field Blueson August 11, 2020 at 1:45 pm 11 Aug 2020

The Ball Field Blues

McBride, British Columbia, population 616, is a town that has lived and died by the railway. Nestled in the Robson Valley, in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies’ highest point, it is a town that draws life from the railway. And when I stopped there, as I did last week on my way home from the wilderness, it was the features of the railway that immediately drew my focus. There was the train station, which was also the cafe, which was also the gift shop. An antique caboose with a bright new red coat of paint sat outside — a plaque from the person who donated it, a longtime railway worker, described the caboose as the subject of a lifelong dream. There were the train tracks, and on them, the trains, all ringing bells and screeching wheels, thousands of gallons of gas in tanks heading south.

But just across the street from all of that, something else caught my eye: a ballpark. Of all things for there to be in this town, there was a ballpark.

The grass was dry and weedy, and a lone crow picked at the infield dirt. Tall, shiny fences loomed along the outfield, and along the baselines were two wooden dugouts for the absent teams to shelter in, blue-roofed and mesh-windowed. Behind home was a small set of wooden bleachers, the same chipping blue as the roofs of the dugouts. A sign with the flags of B.C. and Canada, rippling in the alpine wind, announced: BILL CLARK MEMORIAL PARK.

I stood there under the sign for quite a while, just me and the crow and the memory of Bill Clark. A thousand kilometers away from home with no one else in sight, baseball can still find you in the form of a field and an arrangement of dirt.

***

The blog Ballparks Around the World posted its first image in July of 2016, a picture of Dodger Stadium. Since then, it has accumulated 202 pages of content. Essentially all of the blog’s posts follow the same format: an unsourced image of a ballpark, followed by a caption including only the ballpark’s name and its location.

The blog operates in strange little bursts of energy, often posting several pictures in one day before going silent for weeks. Its images range from screencaps of current major-league aerial shots, panels of white light shining into the night sky, to barely-legible black-and-white scans of parks that disappeared long ago. The ballparks are dirt fields and coliseums, tiny and expansive, abandoned and carefully-tended, worth millions of dollars and worth nothing — all their differences flattened by their uniform adherence to the image-name-location format, their lack of context, the distant angles from which they are most often captured. The ballparks are often empty, though not always. But when there are people in the shots, they are most often faceless, static, so far away from the camera’s lens that they might not be people at all; they could be tricks of the light, little bits of movie magic added in post-production.

What makes Ballparks Around the World so compelling is that it’s the ballparks that take precedence, the endless sequence of ballparks — ballparks that, for all their variance, all the different cultural contexts that went into their design, all the diversity of people and players who visit them, are ballparks, in the end.

From the Ballparks Around the World archives.

There are few spaces quite like a ballpark. A standard rectangular sporting field can be used for so many things; with some exceptions, it doesn’t lend itself to the development of a strong identity. A ballpark, though, is necessarily an odd bit of engineering. The infield dimensions are set, but the edges are blurrier, leaving room for idiosyncrasies that belie a fundamental similarity. It is a place of harmonious contradiction.

Paul Goldberger, in his book Ballpark: Baseball and the American City, theorizes the American ballpark as a synthesis of the urban and the rural: a space simultaneously engineered for dense, lively social interaction and for pastoral calm and isolation, a gently-tended garden in the middle of a towering man-made behemoth, blades of grass rooted into the earth and concrete beams reaching into the sky. The ballpark needs these contradictory elements to exist; they are yin and yang, in constant tension and perfect synchronicity. Goldberger writes:

The exquisite garden of the baseball field without the structure around it would be just a rural meadow, bereft not only of the spectators themselves, but the transformative energy they bring. And the stands without the diamond and the outfield would be a pointless construction.

And it’s not only the structural elements of a ballpark that are contradictory in this way. Ballparks are often privately-owned spaces, but they exist, at least in theory, for the public, without which they would be truly “pointless constructions.” And for many people, despite the fact that a privately-owned ballpark is not their home, it can feel like one in a way that a rented apartment or a suburban duplex might not. Perhaps this conception of ballpark as public good is illusory, but if it is, it’s an undeniably powerful illusion. Being at a game, feeling the energy of the crowd and the power of their collective experience in contrast and harmony with the actions of players down on the field, imbues ballparks with the “transformative energy” Goldberger writes about — the sense of memory, the sense of potential.

It’s this energy that haunts the pictures Ballparks Around the World posts. It’s this energy that lingered at Bill Clark Memorial Park, that I stood there hoping to soak up somehow. And it’s this energy that one misses in this fanless season. The strangeness, I’ve realized, doesn’t come from the simple fact that the ballparks are empty. It’s that the balance of contradictions has been thrown off. The ballpark can’t be a site of public experience anymore, no matter how many MLB.TV ads with dramatic music over shots of empty seats tell me that JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT HERE… DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T BE HEARD.

The games, sure, can be publicly disseminated via TV and radio and various online platforms (blackout restrictions apply). But with the community of spectatorship impossible, there is no transformation. There can be no real connection to memory, to the others around you, to the futures that might yet happen inside this place. Cardboard cutouts and uncanny computer-generated fans clipping into players’ faces aren’t a substitute. The ballpark is a structure bereft of its purpose.

And unless there are some very dramatic, very unlikely changes in the state of the pandemic in the United States, to allow fans back to ballparks this season won’t mark a restoration of that purpose. Yesterday, The Athletic‘s C. Trent Rosecrantz reported that the Reds are moving toward having fans at the Great American Ballpark at some point. They sent an email to their seasonal workers asking them to confirm, by August 12, whether they would be willing to come to work should local authorities give the all-clear. Should fans indeed return, is the experience they will have worth the risk to these workers? Is it worth the risk to themselves? And who, ultimately, will benefit from that risk?

That has always been there, this pull between the profits of few and the enrichment of many. It is hard, looking at the resources poured into immense structures full of nobody while a country struggles, to see anything other than the profit.

***

The dugouts and the stands at Bill Clark Memorial Park were hand-built by volunteers 20 years ago. They sawed the wood and applied the paint: the once-bright blue, the contrasting white. Untreated wood can only last so long in the elements, though, especially in the Rockies. One of the stands that those volunteers built is already gone, too damaged by years of summer use and winter weathering. The ones that remain need replacement.

The park, in a normal summer, would be used almost daily: by youth softball and baseball groups, and by groups of adults, too. It would be the host to tournaments of teams from around the valley. Even this summer, it is a gathering place, the site of fireworks displays and socially-distant car bingo. The need for maintenance of such a vital community space is obvious. But money is hard to come by. A 2015 article in the Rocky Mountain Goat assessed the cost of the needed upgrades to the field as upwards of $30,000. Maybe the upgrades are on the way; maybe the funding is still being searched for.

Of course, I knew none of this as I leaned over the fence at Bill Clark Memorial Park. I swatted away the mosquitoes, let the morning sun warm my face, regretted forgetting my glove back in Vancouver — there would be no final game of catch there before my brother went back to America, back to an uncertain future. And almost without trying, I imagined what a game there would be like, filling in the blanks of the empty field. A foul ball, hitting the netting. A cheer and a smattering of applause from the stands. The crack of a beer can. A new pitcher emerging from the angular dugout doors. The sun, passing behind the shadow of the mountain. Someday, I thought. Someday. But it was time to go home.


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The Ball Field Blues

McBride, British Columbia, population 616, is a town that has lived and died by the railway. Nestled in the Robson Valley, in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies’ highest point, it is a town that draws life from the railway. And when I stopped there, as I did last week on my way home from the wilderness, it was the features of the railway that immediately drew my focus. There was the train station, which was also the cafe, which was also the gift shop. An antique caboose with a bright new red coat of paint sat outside — a plaque from the person who donated it, a longtime railway worker, described the caboose as the subject of a lifelong dream. There were the train tracks, and on them, the trains, all ringing bells and screeching wheels, thousands of gallons of gas in tanks heading south. But just across the street from all of that, something else caught my eye: a ballpark. Of all things for there to be in this town, there was a ballpark.
The grass was dry and weedy, and a lone crow picked at the infield dirt. Tall, shiny fences loomed along the outfield, and along the baselines were two wooden dugouts for the absent teams to shelter in, blue-roofed and mesh-windowed. Behind home was a small set of wooden bleachers, the same chipping blue as the roofs of the dugouts. A sign with the flags of B.C. and Canada, rippling in the alpine wind, announced: BILL CLARK MEMORIAL PARK. I stood there under the sign for quite a while, just me and the crow and the memory of Bill Clark. A thousand kilometers away from home with no one else in sight, baseball can still find you in the form of a field and an arrangement of dirt. *** The blog Ballparks Around the World posted its first image in July of 2016, a picture of Dodger Stadium. Since then, it has accumulated 202 pages of content. Essentially all of the blog’s posts follow the same format: an unsourced image of a ballpark, followed by a caption including only the ballpark’s name and its location.
The blog operates in strange little bursts of energy, often posting several pictures in one day before going silent for weeks. Its images range from screencaps of current major-league aerial shots, panels of white light shining into the night sky, to barely-legible black-and-white scans of parks that disappeared long ago. The ballparks are dirt fields and coliseums, tiny and expansive, abandoned and carefully-tended, worth millions of dollars and worth nothing — all their differences flattened by their uniform adherence to the image-name-location format, their lack of context, the distant angles from which they are most often captured. The ballparks are often empty, though not always. But when there are people in the shots, they are most often faceless, static, so far away from the camera’s lens that they might not be people at all; they could be tricks of the light, little bits of movie magic added in post-production. What makes Ballparks Around the World so compelling is that it’s the ballparks that take precedence, the endless sequence of ballparks — ballparks that, for all their variance, all the different cultural contexts that went into their design, all the diversity of people and players who visit them, are ballparks, in the end.
From the Ballparks Around the World archives.
There are few spaces quite like a ballpark. A standard rectangular sporting field can be used for so many things; with some exceptions, it doesn’t lend itself to the development of a strong identity. A ballpark, though, is necessarily an odd bit of engineering. The infield dimensions are set, but the edges are blurrier, leaving room for idiosyncrasies that belie a fundamental similarity. It is a place of harmonious contradiction. Paul Goldberger, in his book Ballpark: Baseball and the American City, theorizes the American ballpark as a synthesis of the urban and the rural: a space simultaneously engineered for dense, lively social interaction and for pastoral calm and isolation, a gently-tended garden in the middle of a towering man-made behemoth, blades of grass rooted into the earth and concrete beams reaching into the sky. The ballpark needs these contradictory elements to exist; they are yin and yang, in constant tension and perfect synchronicity. Goldberger writes:
The exquisite garden of the baseball field without the structure around it would be just a rural meadow, bereft not only of the spectators themselves, but the transformative energy they bring. And the stands without the diamond and the outfield would be a pointless construction.
And it’s not only the structural elements of a ballpark that are contradictory in this way. Ballparks are often privately-owned spaces, but they exist, at least in theory, for the public, without which they would be truly “pointless constructions.” And for many people, despite the fact that a privately-owned ballpark is not their home, it can feel like one in a way that a rented apartment or a suburban duplex might not. Perhaps this conception of ballpark as public good is illusory, but if it is, it’s an undeniably powerful illusion. Being at a game, feeling the energy of the crowd and the power of their collective experience in contrast and harmony with the actions of players down on the field, imbues ballparks with the “transformative energy” Goldberger writes about — the sense of memory, the sense of potential. It’s this energy that haunts the pictures Ballparks Around the World posts. It’s this energy that lingered at Bill Clark Memorial Park, that I stood there hoping to soak up somehow. And it’s this energy that one misses in this fanless season. The strangeness, I’ve realized, doesn’t come from the simple fact that the ballparks are empty. It’s that the balance of contradictions has been thrown off. The ballpark can’t be a site of public experience anymore, no matter how many MLB.TV ads with dramatic music over shots of empty seats tell me that JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT HERE… DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T BE HEARD. The games, sure, can be publicly disseminated via TV and radio and various online platforms (blackout restrictions apply). But with the community of spectatorship impossible, there is no transformation. There can be no real connection to memory, to the others around you, to the futures that might yet happen inside this place. Cardboard cutouts and uncanny computer-generated fans clipping into players’ faces aren’t a substitute. The ballpark is a structure bereft of its purpose. And unless there are some very dramatic, very unlikely changes in the state of the pandemic in the United States, to allow fans back to ballparks this season won’t mark a restoration of that purpose. Yesterday, The Athletic‘s C. Trent Rosecrantz reported that the Reds are moving toward having fans at the Great American Ballpark at some point. They sent an email to their seasonal workers asking them to confirm, by August 12, whether they would be willing to come to work should local authorities give the all-clear. Should fans indeed return, is the experience they will have worth the risk to these workers? Is it worth the risk to themselves? And who, ultimately, will benefit from that risk? That has always been there, this pull between the profits of few and the enrichment of many. It is hard, looking at the resources poured into immense structures full of nobody while a country struggles, to see anything other than the profit. ***
The dugouts and the stands at Bill Clark Memorial Park were hand-built by volunteers 20 years ago. They sawed the wood and applied the paint: the once-bright blue, the contrasting white. Untreated wood can only last so long in the elements, though, especially in the Rockies. One of the stands that those volunteers built is already gone, too damaged by years of summer use and winter weathering. The ones that remain need replacement. The park, in a normal summer, would be used almost daily: by youth softball and baseball groups, and by groups of adults, too. It would be the host to tournaments of teams from around the valley. Even this summer, it is a gathering place, the site of fireworks displays and socially-distant car bingo. The need for maintenance of such a vital community space is obvious. But money is hard to come by. A 2015 article in the Rocky Mountain Goat assessed the cost of the needed upgrades to the field as upwards of $30,000. Maybe the upgrades are on the way; maybe the funding is still being searched for. Of course, I knew none of this as I leaned over the fence at Bill Clark Memorial Park. I swatted away the mosquitoes, let the morning sun warm my face, regretted forgetting my glove back in Vancouver — there would be no final game of catch there before my brother went back to America, back to an uncertain future. And almost without trying, I imagined what a game there would be like, filling in the blanks of the empty field. A foul ball, hitting the netting. A cheer and a smattering of applause from the stands. The crack of a beer can. A new pitcher emerging from the angular dugout doors. The sun, passing behind the shadow of the mountain. Someday, I thought. Someday. But it was time to go home.
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Butler returns from foot injury to lead Heat’s winon August 11, 2020 at 8:40 am 11 Aug 2020

Miami Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler loves being the man who sets the tone for his team. He enjoys the challenge that comes with bringing the high-level intensity each and every day for a team that believes it can contend in the Eastern Conference.

That’s why Monday’s 114-92 win over T.J. Warren and the Indiana Pacers left Butler smiling from ear to ear. Not only did he get his team back on track after he missed three straight games because of a right foot injury, but he also did so against Warren, with whom he exchanged some heated words after a win over the Pacers in January.

“The depth of our team obviously is a big-time strength, the fact that we have a lot of different variety to our offense, but make no mistake about this: Jimmy Butler is a go-to guy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And you saw that tonight. I don’t even care what his field goal percentage was. He was dictating the game. The ball was going through him. That’s the definition of a go-to player. It’s when your offense knows where the ball has to go, and he makes the right plays.”

Butler went 5-for-13 from the field, but he made his impact all over the floor, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block in 29 minutes. That he helped limit Warren to 5-for-14 shooting from the field in the win made it that much sweeter after Butler said in January that Warren said something “truly disrespectful” and that Warren was “trash.”

“We just made everything tough on him,” Butler said in a postgame interview with Fox Sports Florida. “He’s been on a tear lately, I will say that. But when you go up against the Heat, we always have something in our back pocket.”

Throughout his career, Butler has had a long memory. He remembers all the slights that have defined his career and has never shied away from a challenge when he feels disrespected. That’s why his performance against the Pacers shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially given that the numbers show that he has consistently given Warren problems on the defensive end.

According to Second Spectrum, Warren has scored 22 points in 173 matchups against Butler in his career, which is tied for his fewest against any defender he has matched up against at least 150 times.

After the game, Spoelstra downplayed the significance of Butler’s showdown with Warren, instead focusing on Butler’s overall importance to the Heat.

“Anything right now with the NBA is good,” Spoelstra said. “We need this. We need competition. So much of [the Butler-Warren rivalry] was just a storyline, but who cares really? I know it was months ago, but hey, we’re out here completing a season and just about on the brink of the playoffs in a global pandemic. It’s just all good right now, the fact that we’re able to do this — and if it contributes to interest because people want that storyline, so be it.”

Warren, who came into the game averaging 34.8 points per game in the bubble, gave the Heat’s defense credit after the game.

“I could tell they had a good, little plan off the ball screens,” Warren said. “We’ve just got to be able to make adjustments offensively as a team. But like I said before, we had good looks. We just didn’t make them tonight. We can’t hang our heads. It’s just one game. We’ve got a lot more games to play. We’re just going to watch film, adjust and get ready for the next game.”

The Pacers will get their chance when they see the Heat again Friday, but both teams are ready for a 4/5 matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

With Butler back and serving as the emotional engine for the Heat group, they are ready for whatever happens the next few weeks. However, veteran guard Goran Dragic, who came back after missing two games because of an ankle injury, admitted that they wanted to send a message to the Pacers on Monday.

“We came out from the first minute that this is going to be a really important game for us,” Dragic said. “You can see Jimmy was locked in, everybody basically, and it was a helluva team win. We’ve beat them three times, but every time it’s going to be different. Every time, we need to bring our best game and try to finish the business.”

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this story.

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Miami Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler loves being the man who sets the tone for his team. He enjoys the challenge that comes with bringing the high-level intensity each and every day for a team that believes it can contend in the Eastern Conference. That’s why Monday’s 114-92 win over T.J. Warren and the Indiana Pacers left Butler smiling from ear to ear. Not only did he get his team back on track after he missed three straight games because of a right foot injury, but he also did so against Warren, with whom he exchanged some heated words after a win over the Pacers in January. “The depth of our team obviously is a big-time strength, the fact that we have a lot of different variety to our offense, but make no mistake about this: Jimmy Butler is a go-to guy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And you saw that tonight. I don’t even care what his field goal percentage was. He was dictating the game. The ball was going through him. That’s the definition of a go-to player. It’s when your offense knows where the ball has to go, and he makes the right plays.” Butler went 5-for-13 from the field, but he made his impact all over the floor, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block in 29 minutes. That he helped limit Warren to 5-for-14 shooting from the field in the win made it that much sweeter after Butler said in January that Warren said something “truly disrespectful” and that Warren was “trash.” “We just made everything tough on him,” Butler said in a postgame interview with Fox Sports Florida. “He’s been on a tear lately, I will say that. But when you go up against the Heat, we always have something in our back pocket.” Throughout his career, Butler has had a long memory. He remembers all the slights that have defined his career and has never shied away from a challenge when he feels disrespected. That’s why his performance against the Pacers shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially given that the numbers show that he has consistently given Warren problems on the defensive end. According to Second Spectrum, Warren has scored 22 points in 173 matchups against Butler in his career, which is tied for his fewest against any defender he has matched up against at least 150 times. After the game, Spoelstra downplayed the significance of Butler’s showdown with Warren, instead focusing on Butler’s overall importance to the Heat. “Anything right now with the NBA is good,” Spoelstra said. “We need this. We need competition. So much of [the Butler-Warren rivalry] was just a storyline, but who cares really? I know it was months ago, but hey, we’re out here completing a season and just about on the brink of the playoffs in a global pandemic. It’s just all good right now, the fact that we’re able to do this — and if it contributes to interest because people want that storyline, so be it.” Warren, who came into the game averaging 34.8 points per game in the bubble, gave the Heat’s defense credit after the game. “I could tell they had a good, little plan off the ball screens,” Warren said. “We’ve just got to be able to make adjustments offensively as a team. But like I said before, we had good looks. We just didn’t make them tonight. We can’t hang our heads. It’s just one game. We’ve got a lot more games to play. We’re just going to watch film, adjust and get ready for the next game.” The Pacers will get their chance when they see the Heat again Friday, but both teams are ready for a 4/5 matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs. With Butler back and serving as the emotional engine for the Heat group, they are ready for whatever happens the next few weeks. However, veteran guard Goran Dragic, who came back after missing two games because of an ankle injury, admitted that they wanted to send a message to the Pacers on Monday. “We came out from the first minute that this is going to be a really important game for us,” Dragic said. “You can see Jimmy was locked in, everybody basically, and it was a helluva team win. We’ve beat them three times, but every time it’s going to be different. Every time, we need to bring our best game and try to finish the business.” ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this story. Read More
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