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The View from Left Field
Fenway Parkand Other Places Wild to the Heart
By Michael Rogner
It's a wonderful thing, like entering into an Easter egg. John Updike
Here, in my western landscape, where half the land is public, there are so many places to try to save it makes you dizzy. Every region, every state, every watershed has at least a few diligent people devoting their lives and spirit to a (mostly losing) battle to protect that territory they love. And I'm no stranger to these activists. I've lost years working on the behalf of wild fish, of mountains, of wilderness, trying to save these strange wild elements we tether our hearts to. Rick Bass, the Montana writer/activist, wrote in Wild to the Heart (his second of fourteen books): "If it's wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it's a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (heaven forbid) your job. It doesn't matter if it's wild to anyone else: if it's what makes your heart sing, if it's what makes your day soar like a hawk in summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it's wild, and if it's wild, it'll mean you're still free. No matter where you are."
So what am I doing? Am I bilking my land? Here I am, surrounded by mad plunderers destroying the public domain for profit, and I'm worried about a ball field, an old decrepit place that probably needs to be replaced, three thousand miles from my home. They play baseball there. Baseball! It's not as if it's a keystone to the natural world. But I'm sick with worry. Fenway. It saddens me to say it.
The first place I lost is now called the Easter Massacre. There was a contested timber sale. An ancient grove. A little research revealed it to be the oldest unprotected tract of forest in the United States. The average tree-the average!-was over 800 years old. Cedar and spruce and fir-and magic, I could add that to the list. Where were you at the end of the twelfth century? Some of those trees were 250 years old by then; 550 when Columbus was sinking ships off Hispaniola; 900 before Europeans began building forts on this northwest coast; almost a thousand when a young man named Ruth began pitching for the Boston Red Sox. We told people what was happening. We printed fliers. We tried. But in the end we felt like goldfish throwing ourselves against glass. So we sued. There had to be something illegal. The judge agreed, so as he set the court date, he explained that it was winter and the heaviest snows in recent memory had left our particular grove unreachable, so the case needn't be hurried. The case would be heard the first workday after Easter. We were young then, and didn't worry. But then a funny thing happened-funny meaning heart-wrenching, not ha-ha-a storm, the Pineapple Express to be exact, swept warm Hawaiian air up here to Oregon and we experienced the warmest March on record. The timber company, never missing a beat, sent a crew into the now foot-deep snow and cut everything down on Easter Sunday. The following day the case was dismissed as the evidence no longer existed.
I could walk to Fenway when I lived in Boston. I won't even try to explain what it is like to enter Fenway for the first time, to see the field where Ruth and Foxx and Speaker and Williams and Smoky Joe Wood played. Too many have written about it before me, and more eloquently than I. Try Updike, or Donald Hall. Fenway doesn't need me. What it needs is people to rise, to go to Boston and see a game, then to write the Red Sox owners, the Boston papers, the politicians-write your grandmother for all I care-and tell them what you think. They want a new park so they can make more money. And high-powered men in high-powered jobs are trying to convince us that it is their right to do whatever they want. And maybe it is. Maybe it's best that the wealthiest among us get to make all the decisions. After all, it's easier to watch a game from box seats than right field. But there are places out here, out west, places that were destroyed for money, that I could show you. I could walk you through them so you could pick up a handful of soil, a pinecone, an old antler nibbled down by chipmunks. Glen Canyon. The redwoods. The Olympic rainforest. I could list places all day, could fill reams of paper with the names of lands slaughtered by rich men. Does Fenway, so far from my home, placed smack in the pulsing heart of a metropolis, belong on that list?
It opened in 1912. Doesn't that mean anything? It's nearly as old as the American League. So much of the history of the game happened right there, so much jubilation and heartache that it fills books, fills lives. It's where Ted Williams, the greatest hitter ever, launched a home run in his final at bat. Or what about Bucky Dent's shot into the screen, or Tony C's beaning, or Carlton Fisk willing his home run fair in the greatest game ever played? The men who want to destroy Fenway recently hired a PR firm-an ominous sign in itself-and they quickly devised a plan to re-create Fenway, a modernized version right next door with better toilets and food and isles and ten thousand extra seats. The idea is obscene. They're building an illusion. They want the old Fenway feel, the mystique, but without the hassle of it actually being old. It's like wanting the idea of your grandparents, but not the real thing, the flesh and blood and lush history.
Perhaps we should modernize other landmarks. What about the Alamo? Have you ever been to San Antonio in August? Put on red sunglasses and you'll think you're in hell. We should raze it and construct a neighboring replica complete with bullet holes and dry wells-only in this new one they can put air conditioning. Reliving that battle would be much more comfortable encased in a seventy-one degree stupor.
So what am I asking? And why should you care? If you love Fenway, if you love baseball, if you understand what it means, then tell people. Be it your neighbor or the governor of Massachusetts, talk about it, about the spirit, about the-dare I say-holiness of it. Say the name; it's an incantation, a secret key to some forgotten spell: Fenway Park. Unlock it. Say it. And say it again. Fill the airwaves with the tiny vibrations of those words.
And for the latter part-why you should care-well, maybe you shouldn't. Maybe I'm just a crackpot Oregonian who spent too many of his formative afternoons out beyond Pesky's Pole in the right field bleachers. Maybe I should give in to the new way where consumerism and baseball blend to create a more perfect experience. But do this: go there. Do that at least. See a game at Fenway before the financial magicians and their high-paid manipulators steal her away from us.
MICHAEL ROGNER lives and works in Oregon. His work has appeared in numerous
journals. He plays centerfield for the Wilshire Parkers in Portland.
© 1999 Michael Rogner
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