Monday, January 9, 2017

The Voice

You may well ask what communication there is between father and son in a game of catch, played out in a back yard? The father is a plainspoken person, not given to long sentences or philosophy. The son is of an age where anything, even baseball, seems possible, although he worries his size at the moment will be a barrier.

The father is often the one to suggest the games of catch although the son cannot recall a time when he broached the idea and was told the equivalent of "come back later."

The son demonstrates his adeptness at building a vocabulary. He is better at this than most persons he knows.

The father, who has spent much of his youth and early married life trying to settle into a way of keeping his family afloat and his ego intact, continues to impress upon his son the mantra the son accepts more on faith than the understanding that may be poised in the wings, waiting for its cue. "Whatever you are, be a good one."

This particular backyard game of catch of which you write took place early one Spring, where a primary goal for the son was being good enough at baseball to be chosen for sandlot teams, for pick-up games, for such ephemera as peer regard, team spirit, personal reputation, and meaningful direction.

Long moments passed in which the only communication was the exchange of possession of a baseball, from father to son, from son to father. The accompanying sounds were the smack of the ball into each glove, the son's first-baseman's mitt, the father's tattered fielder's glove. This exchange was sufficient for the son. With each catch, he was less self-conscious about the anomaly between his size and the height of most first-basemen, regardless of their team.

The afternoon reached its primary dramatic peak when the father removed his pocket watch, noted the time, then strode to a radio on the nearby porch. The father turned on the radio, waited for sound, adjusted it to his liking, then returned to the game of catch.  "Any moment now," he said.

Both father and son continued to throw the baseball, each to the other, the father perhaps more aware this game of catch was subtext for conversation.  At the proper moment, the father cautioned the son to listen. "What you are about to hear is the voice of baseball as it is known in our house. There are other voices of baseball, but none like this. Voices will come and go, but this voice will remain."

The voice you heard belonged to Walter Lanier Barber, who often referred to himself as "the old redhead." You were introduced to him as he called a baseball game for his employers, the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the voice of the Dodgers, thoughtful, elegant, eloquent, unpreturbable.

Over the years, you've heard Mel Allen and Phil Rizutto broadcast on behalf of the New York Yankees; you've heard Jay Hanna Dean, also known as Dizzy. You've evolved with each of these as they, and their voices, evolved from radio description to television commentary.

You could make the argument that each of these voices were prequels to Vin Scully, whom you do consider transcendental in his presentation of baseball or anything else he'd care to talk about.

But your father--he who played endless catch with you--was right. The voice of baseball is Red Barber.

You've grown apart from baseball, but not its voice. From that voice, you've learned that everything you can see and a great many things such as fear and dread that you cannot see all have voices.

Sometimes you wonder if the thunk, thunk of the baseball, hitting your glove and then your father's, is your aural equivalent of comfort food. The sound of communication. The growing awareness of your wish to be chosen for the pick-up team of writers and poets, the men and women who listen for the sounds of things, then put them into words.

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