All She Wrote: Diamonds in the rough

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by Nicole Crews

Mother: What’s this baseball thing you’re doing again?

Me: It’s the Dash vs. Sharks.

Mother: Isn’t that from West Side Story?

Me: It’s Winston-Salem vs. Wilmington, mother.

Mother: Winston has a West Side.

Me: It also has a Dash and a hyphen.

Mother: What’s a Dash and a hyphen?

Me: Well, they’re both punctuation marks but one’s a baseball team.

Mother: Which one?

Me: I don’t care anymore.

Mother: Naturally.

There was a time when — believe it or not — I thought I wanted to be a sportswriter. I envisioned myself in the locker room, towel-snapping half-naked athletes and getting scoop-worthy quotes that would profoundly translate the game into universal truths.

Then came my first interview with Brien Taylor, the North Carolina native who became the Yankees first overall draft pick in the early 1990s. After an imminently forgettable nine — or was it 90 — innings, I got my locker-room moment.

Me: So Brien, the Yankees have a lot riding on you. What are your aspirations?

Brien: Uh, oh, I’m a Presbyterian.

After that, the only diamond I ever wanted to see again was parked in a sleek little box marked Cartier, and even that was debatable. As fate would have it though, my boyfriend at the time was an avid fan of the great American pastime — a Detroit Tigers man, to be exact. This of course meant a pilgrimage to Tiger Stadium to see Cecil Fielder knock a few out of the park.

“Smell that,” he said, as we entered the hallowed halls of his beloved ballpark. What he meant, I suppose, was the whiff of greatness built by generations of Michiganders flocking together in non-union unison after grueling days spent on Detroit assembly lines.

What I smelled, however, were urinal cake as old as the Model T. Mix in the sweat produced by thousands of beef-eating, polyester-wearing, beer-swilling Midwesterners, then add the mustard caked on the back of my shirt by a Ritalin-frenzied 5-year-old with a hot dog and you get the olfactory picture.

But I endured.

Boyfriend: Wanna go to Florida?

Me: Sure, what’s the occasion? Wintertime blues?

Boyfriend: Something like that.

Me: Oh God, it’s a baseball thing, isn’t it?

Boyfriend: Spring Training, the Grapefruit League

Me: Is that anything like The Apple Dumpling Gang?

Boyfriend: No, but Disney World isn’t far.

Spring training was not so bad. Intimate Florida ballparks were strung like necklaces with the glitterati and literati — Evander Holyfield sitting next to Julia Roberts one day; novelist Lee Smith and columnist Hal Crowther basking in the crisp Florida sunshine on another. A Carl Hiassen meet during a quiet, post-game dinner in one of the Redneck Riviera’s better restaurants was a highlight, as was seeing Gary Busey lose a tooth in a cardboard container of nachos. How about a close-up view of some of the tighter ends of baseball (oh wait, that’s football)?  This I could handle.

Eventually the regular season would roll around again, and I’d find myself in some ballpark, novel in one hand, stale beer in the other (anything to anesthetize myself from the ensuing nine-inning snooze fest).

I was a baseball widow for seven years, and swore I would never do it again. So why, when that beaming, handsome man walked up to me casually and asked me if I liked baseball, didn’t I answer, “Uh, oh, I’m a Presbyterian”? Guess I thought he might be a diamond in the rough.

Crews will be attending the Winston-Salem Dash’s opening day on Thursday. You’ll be able to recognize her by the beer in one hand and the novel in the other.