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DUST OF THE FIELDS BEHIND US

Catching the World Series on the Far Side of the Globe
By Robert Diemer

While I was marooned on a South Pacific island, radio was the only way I could follow the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 playoffs and World Series. It was the first time in my life that the Indians would win the pennant, and I was halfway around the world from Jacobs Field, on an island where the October ritual is the return of migrating snowy egrets, not the World Series.

Luckily, my baseball radio habit started early. Elementary school teachers may remember the boy who followed the Tribe's Opening Day fortunes with a transistor radio hidden in the desk, speaker plug beneath a hand cupped over an ear. That was me, listening to Jimmy Dudley and Herb Score. Of course, I never listened to the Indians in a World Series; they never got that far. That education left me, a child of the television age, with an abiding appreciation for following baseball on the radio.

A radio broadcast gives time for speculation and memory, the chance to replay the inevitable and ponder the improbable. Experienced announcers know better than to fill the gaps in a game, for in baseball empty spaces are important, too. A ball game on the radio is the perfect companion to wash the car or weed the garden; a pastime that takes, but doesn't take up, an afternoon. A broadcast of a night game can keep a driver awake through three states, but is best heard on the front porch where cricket chirps mix with the crowd noise.

But I was far from crickets and Indians in the autumn of 1995. I had accepted a job on Yap, a South Pacific island, at a time when the baseball strike looked ready to consume two seasons. I left for the islands with Cleveland in first place by fourteen games. By the time the Indians clinched the division title, I had a month to figure out how to catch the World Series. That autumn was just before the Internet began to shrink the globe to now roughly the size of an official Rawlings Major League ball. With no Web access on-island, my Hobson's choice was television or radio.

Yap had television of sorts, month-old videotapes from California broadcast from a small station above Yap's main town. But the four-week delay meant that Game Seven of the World Series could be a distant memory before anyone on-island saw Game One of the playoffs. On good days, the satellite dish at the island's scuba resort managed to snag television signals like a shortstop on a slow roller deep in the hole. One transmission that came in clearly was the Hong Kong broadcast of ESPN International, a station with odd broadcast priorities. Coverage of Major League Baseball was frequently pre-empted by, say, the Pakistani squash final or the "Australia vs. New Zealand" rugby test match. When ESPN International had a game on tape, the broadcast skipped frames in which no runs tallied, as if there were no drama in a scoreless inning. With ESPN International, one could wander away for a moment and return, like Rip Van Winkle, to find that seven innings had passed.

Radio seemed little better. Any Pacific military veteran knows that Armed Forces Radio carried Major League Baseball. But the last Seabees left Yap years ago. Some folks on-island had shortwave radios that could pick up distant signals bounced off the ionosphere. The Voice of America had baseball news but no games, while the BBC and Radio Australia ignored our national pastime. Their coverage of "The Sport" seemed limited to all-but-indecipherable cricket scores.

Fortunately, K-57 Radio from Agana, Guam, broadcast Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, K-57 transmitted primarily to islands north, and Yap is five-hundred-plus miles southwest of Guam. Tuning 570 AM almost anywhere on Yap brought only a howl of static. The one accessible place where the signal came through clear was the airport parking lot, high on a breezy ridge.

Figuring time was another matter. A game played Sunday evening eastern standard time is beamed live to the far side of the Pacific, across the international date line, on Monday morning. Another American stationed on-island agreed to drive to the airport on game days. With radio tuned, we lounged in his pickup truck, doors ajar to catch any breeze in the heat of a tropic noon, while home in Ohio, players and fans shivered through the last night's blustery October evening.

Aside from the sticky heat, the shimmering view across the mangroves to the turquoise water over the reef, and the utter lack of crickets, it was just like listening to a game back home. The radio team passed time with trivia, while the background swelled with baseball's white noise—the crowds' rumble at the Jake, Fenway, and Fulton County Stadium, Cracker Jacks crackling, vendors calling—until the buzz was pierced by the crack of a bat, through the static five hundred miles from Guam and seven thousand miles from Ohio.

I was too nervous to sit through the first Indians' playoff games of my life, so I took a good lead from the truck, about as far as Kenny Lofton might get from first base. When a pinch-hit home run won in extra innings, I circled the empty parking lot, matching the Tribe's hitter stride for stride. The Indians swept the Red Sox, then cleaned up on the Seattle Mariners to bring the American League pennant to Cleveland.

Through Game One of the 1995 World Series, I had the first-car-in-the-roller-coaster lump that this was the Cleveland Indians playing for the title. I was the South Pacific's truest believer that the Tribe was the team of destiny, until the final out of Game Six, when the Braves gained revenge for the Indians' last world championship in 1948. Indian bats that had thundered all summer long suddenly went silent. The airport lot never looked so empty as when a potential tying run was picked off first base in the eighth inning. In six games I came to realize a truth that, as an Indians fan, I never had to learn before: It is infinitely more painful to come in second than not to contend at all.

—EFQ

ROBERT DIEMER followed the Indians from the Micronesian islands of Yap and Kosrae for four years. He now lives in San Francisco, but thinks that Pacific Bell Park doesn't hold a candle to Jacobs Field.

© 2001 Robert Diemer

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