David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #9
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

A year ago on these pages, I took the Richmond Flying Squirrels to task for what seemed a condescending approach in naming our city’s new minor league baseball team. In case you missed it, the team, when based in Connecticut, was the Defenders. Moved to Richmond, that stolid moniker was replaced with a cartoonish non-indigenous rodent. I still don’t get it. Like grandpa used to mutter, Eh, go figure.

All the Squirrels have done since I lambasted them was to set records for attendance and souvenir sales, put a talented team on the field who hit, fielded and pitched as well as any I’ve seen in our local friendly confines, let me bring my very happy dog to a game, give thousands of fans a team official to shake hands with at every game, tirelessly promote baseball in Richmond, and be a farm team of the World Series champions.

That’s Squirrels 6. Robbins 0. I’m pulling my starter.

I love the Squirrels. I’m all about the Squirrels, because I love good baseball more than mascots.
The parent club, the Giants, care about winning. The Braves abandoned that notion in Richmond. Atlanta brought to the Diamond few budding AAA stars. Most R Braves had little or no shot at the Show. They played like it, and fans responded the same, laconically, to the iffy, aging talent Atlanta rolled out for us year after year. My entertainment dollar found other venues.

In the Squirrels’ inaugural year, we fans could settle into our seats and watch young athletes of promise and growing reputation, fellas we began to recognize as the season progressed. The Giants understand that every community likes a winner, and consistency. The Squirrels are AA ball. The Giants allow Richmond to be a locus for young players still developing; ups and downs in their games are expected. When the players aren’t promoted away the instant they get hot, or buried deeper on the farm when they hit a drought, fans get a sense of ownership. And buy tickets and souvenirs.

Baseball, among all sports, describes the actual limits of human physical endeavor. The fences are just the right depth to contain the vast majority of fly balls. The bases are the proper distance apart so that almost every runner is out on a ground ball, steal attempts are always risky. The game was designed to exist just beyond the fingertips. Then a Roger Maris comes along to make us ask: are we humans catching up, do we need to move the fences back? A Lou Brock rampages the bases and we ponder: are the bags too close? Then baseball grins, winks, and consoles us, no folks, don’t worry, these are just superhumans. You call them Hall of Famers. Don’t fret. Baseball, because it is perfect, reveals the extraordinary, the merely excellent, and the frauds alike.

When I go to watch the Squirrels, I see baseball played hard and well, fundamentally sound, often dramatic. I see the ever-struggle between man and his limits, and man’s bounds made palpable by this game’s white lines, fences and bases. We all want to be great, but it’s so hard to measure this in a daily life. So we roar for those boys on the field who’s accomplishments and failures are visible, predictable, surprising, historic, countable.

We’re really rooting for ourselves, the possible human. We know the outstretched leg trying to beat out that one-hopper to third is always out by half a step.

We still cheer before the throw. We moan when the ump makes the call.

We never give up wanting to be better ourselves, to be heroes, Hall of Famers. If we can’t be great, we want to believe in greatness. We go to the ballpark to search for the remarkable, to identify, embrace or hate it, and be in its company. Greatness can hear us shouting from the stands.

The Squirrels are now my team. I am their fan. Baseball doesn’t happen without us both. We are together inside the stadium and, for this, we are made one. I am out many times. But, oh, very often, I am safe.

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, flying squirrels, baseball, rva


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