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07 April 2007

Play ball!

baseball and food

I thought I was going to marry Steve Garvey.

When I was eleven years old, I wanted nothing more than to play baseball. My brother and I played catch in the backyard, my father hit me pop flies, and I stepped onto the green field to the roar of the crowd more times in my mind than I care to remember at this moment. If you had asked me then what I would become, I would never have guessed former-high-school-teacher-now-full-time-writer-marrying a Chef. Nope. I would have told you, boldly, that I had only one wish: I wanted to be the first woman in the major leagues.

I still wish it happened, actually.

But at the time, I also would have settled for marrying Steve Garvey.

Now, I cringe a bit. My god, the man looks generic, with his chiseled chin and pleasing grin. It mortified me later to find out that he was doing local informercials in Los Angeles and making motivational speeches. Apparently, he still is. And that hair — a giant swoop of Brylcreem (but wiped off afterward), neatly parted on the side. A Santa Ana wind couldn’t have knocked that one out of place. But when I was eleven, he seemed so handsome in his crisp white uniform. Plus, he played first base, where I have resided at nearly every game of my life.

It wasn’t just Steve Garvey. Really, it was the Dodgers. At eleven, just hitting puberty and full of fervency, I loved the Dodgers. No, I really, really loved the Dodgers. I listened to Vin Scully call every game on the radio. I ate Dodger Dogs outside of the ballpark. And when the games were televised, I sat in our wood-panelled den, in front of the television, wearing my baseball glove.

When Tommy Lasorda said that he knew his veins ran Dodger blue, I always nodded my head. I was theirs.

(If you don’t believe me, take a look at this photo of me and my dad, after one of the games. I apologize in advance for my father’s shorts and tube socks. It was the late 70s, after all.)

But then came October. 1977. Those damned Yankees. Reggie “Fucking” Jackson is how I still refer to him. I don’t want to talk about it.

Here is one of the most wondrous parts of spring, however, besides the asparagus and green leaves. Baseball starts again. Everything begins, fresh. By the spring of 1978, I blamed the Yankees, and I believed in my Dodgers. Even though I was nearly twelve, I had changed in that break over winter. What had happened? I saw a photo of Steve Garvey’s wife, Cindy. Um, no. She was a Barbie doll, come barely to life. Really, Steve, is that who you choose? Well, then you’re not the man for me.

You take life powerfully hard at eleven and twelve.

That year, I switched my allegiances, from Steve Garvey to Ron Cey. Ah, the Penguin. That’s what they called him, since he had a little bow-legged waddle. He wasn’t fast, and he sure wasn’t pretty. But he slammed down into the bag with his entire body when he stole bases, and he came up smudged and grinning. That man worked hard.

So, the season of 1978, I imagined being Ron Cey’s daughter. (I didn’t want to marry him. I had moved onto Mikhail Baryshnikov and Steve Martin for those aspirations.) I imagined him taking me to Dodger Stadium, and letting me sit in the dugout while I wear my pint-sized Dodger uniform. I had the best seats, right above first base, for every game. And within a year, I could be a ball girl and fetch errant foul balls.

That didn’t happen either. And the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the series once again.

Really, I don’t want to talk about it.

Baseball has stayed with me, but never with the same fervency of those years. The Dodgers drifted, and by the time they made it back to the playoffs, there was no more Davey Lopes or Rick Monday. The faces, unfamiliar, failed to inspire me at sixteen.

But baseball always beat within my heart. I played it (my hitting specialty is blistering line drives over the third baseman’s head) and watched it and talked it, sometimes. I’ve never been one to memorize box score minutiae, but I can tell you about all the greats. And if you’re ever in a room with me where a television is showing a ball game, don’t expect to keep my attention. My head drifts over there, no matter what I do.

When I lived in New York, however, I rooted actively for the Mets.

The last year I lived there, the Seattle Mariners played the Yankees in the playoffs, and I knew it was time to come home. I was ready for a home-town team again.

The Mariners? Well, they pretty much stink. They have an incredible talent for drafting young players with enormous skills and then trading them just before they become great. The last three years of Mariner baseball have been abysmal.

But still, there is that baseball beginner’s mind at work, always. In spring, anything is possible.

This is why, on Monday, you might have seen me walking toward Safeco Field. The Chef was on my right, holding my hand. My friend Pete walked to our left, as openly giddy as the two of us. Every block or so, from our impossible parking place twenty-two blocks away, one of us stopped to pump our fist and say out loud, “Baseball!” (Okay, that might have been mostly me.)

I should have known when I saw the first man, scraggly and pleading, holding a cardboard sign: “I need tickets.” Actually, I did know, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. (I hope that’s not a precursor of the Mariners’ season.) After the fifth sign, we all looked at each but didn’t say it. We waited until we had the confirmation from the harried ticket taker: sold out.

Sold out? A Seattle Mariners game? Sure, it was opening day, but these were Seattle fans. At least one-third of them appeared to be women wearing too much makeup and reeking of too much perfume, eager to please the man behind whom they tottered on their high heels. Hey, we deserve your tickets!

I have never been to an Opening Day game in my life. The Chef and I have never been to a baseball game together. It was meant to be….a disappointment.

Luckily, I was walking with two of my favorite men in the world, men as remarkably buoyant and able to rebound from disappointments as I tend to be. So we couldn’t get in — at least we were together.

We ambled across the street to the Pyramid Ale House, where we assumed (correctly) that television screens would sit fixed on any open space. We settled in for some food and plenty of conversation, each of us watching the game, transfixed.

Do you sense any difficulty in this? What is a gluten-free girl supposed to eat at an alehouse?

For that matter, what does a gluten-free girl eat at the ballpark?

I’ll have to let you know about the latter when we try again, later in the season. But at the alehouse across from the ballpark, where nearly everything is beer battered and beer braised and draped in all the glory of everything that is beer? Well, not much.

Normally, the Chef and I go to restaurants with plenty of choices, the freshest of foods, chefs who truly care about sending out the best plate imaginable. This isn’t that kind of place. But it is the perfect place for watching the ball game with friends.

So I had the easiest choice for a celiac who eats meat: a hamburger. When in doubt, go with the beef. Tell them no bun, of course. Remind them of this, strenuously. Warn them of how sick you will grow if you eat any gluten, and this might persuade them to ask the line cook to wipe down the grill before he cooks your burger. No fries for you. Why? Well, even though potatoes are blessedly gluten-free, the fries are dunked in oil where battered fish and onion rings are also submerged. The cross-contamination would make you sick for days. Settle for a salad, and remind the waiter that you don’t want those orange-colored croutons you see on someone else’s plate. Remind him of this, again and again. Choose oil and vinegar, on the side, for your dressing, because you don’t know what bottle they are pouring the glurby ranch dressing from, anyway.

And of course, you could grow annoyed that you didn’t get into the game when you were looking forward to Opening Day. And you could suffer with a sore throat because you have to yell over the sound of the crowd in the alehouse every time there is a strikeout. And you could certainly sulk that you are eating a plain hamburger with a salad without an interesting dressing when you eat so well every other day. And the fries? Who knew you would have to forego fries when you had to give up gluten? Certainly, you could choose to make this a lousy day.

Or, like me, you could laugh your way through it. You could enjoy the closeness you have with the love of your life, and your dear friend, and watch them talk sports moments from the past over you, and grin at the two of them becoming friends. You could cheer with the crowd when the Mariner phenom Felix Hernandez sets up more than a dozen strikeouts in one game. You could feel grateful that you can eat at all, and afford this food, and eat a hamburger in a restaurant without growing sick.

And you could vow to learn to make the best possible fries in your own kitchen someday.

Most of all, we were there. We were laughing. We were cheering.

And baseball is back again.

Play ball!


At 5:44 AM, Blogger Market at the Square said...

So - you know what I'm talking about when I say,"6-4-3 double play"?

I spent the years of 10-12 worshiping the Atlanta Braves (Dale Murphy, Bruce Benedict, Phil Niekro) before they were really good. After that we moved to Minnesota and I suffered through many seasons of the Twins sucking - they had Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky and Kirby Puckett in those years, but it was early and they hadn't gelled yet - and by the time they put it all together it was 1991, I had graduated from college and was living in Chicago and ended up watching the entire last inning of the last game of the 1991 World Series (Twins and Braves!) on the phone with my father.

I could never get excited about either CHGO team (though the very first thing I did on my first day in CHGO was get tickets off the street for the left field bleachers that afternoon at Wrigley because, you know, I'd grown up watching the games on WGN), and now I live in heavy Cardinal country (not a fan). Players move around too much for me to stay with a team - how can I be loyal to a team when the players aren't? - and so I haven't followed the game.

Your entry tempts me.

I'm glad you had a good opening day, even if you didn't get into the game - leave it to you guys to find a way to make it fun... and noshy!

At 5:57 AM, Blogger I Am Gluten Free said...

Ah, so it is not only food that you are passionate about! So what exactly are your feelings about our beloved Red Sox, if I may ask?:)

At 8:49 AM, Blogger TheGirlCan'tHelpIt! said...

I'm like that, always trying to make the best of it, find the good (except for that day when I have pms...)

Sounds like you succeeded plenty and had a great time anyway!

cheers ~

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Samatakah said...

The glass is more than three-quarters full!

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Shauna said...


Oh yes, I know that double play call. It always killed me when guys questioned if I really understood baseball, and they asked me to explain a double play to them. Or the infield fly rule. Please.

I'm with you on the loyalty thing. Why can't we have a team be the same two years in a row? Does everyone think that baseball has changed for the worst since we were kids? Or does everyone think that, growing up.

Still, it's baseball. Let go of the team and the game becomes infinitely more beautiful.


Oh, I'm a Red Sox fan all right. I always root for the underdogs. And the year they won the Series (and the world didn't come to an end!), I had Pete to root with. He's diehard Sox fan. In fact, the only low point of that day was when Pete looked up at the tv and saw that Curt Schilling had tanked, causing the Sox to lose 7 -1.

I still feel sorry for Bill Buckner.


Oh yes. Why not make the best of it? This is the only time we're going to be here. (Actually, the only one around here with a time of the month around here is the Chef. I should write about that sometime!)


That should be my new motto. I really do see life that way, only because we never know when the glass is going to tip over completely.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Mrs. G.F. said...

Sometimes we get to live to eat, and other days are eating to live. Foode as fuel.

I used to do the first, now with living gluten free, I have learned that sometimes you just eat what you can and get by.

Good for you for enjoying what you had versus what you didn't. I don't always do that. There are moments of ups and downs with me and that realization. :)

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Rachael Narins said...

GO DODGERS!!!!!!!!

I just SO love what a kindred spirit you are my dear. Love it!

And great photo.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, I LOVE baseball! Unfortunately, I have picked the Cubs as my favorite! This puts me in quite a quandry, as it seems they don't like winning! However, I think I'm a true fan, as I've been a fan for almost 10 years now. So sorry that you missed out on opening day! We went to Wrigley a couple of years ago and saw three of which was a night game, four rows behind first base...AWESOME!!!

I love you picture. It is so clever. Hopefully, I'll get to go see a game or two this June in Atlanta before I have to start my clinical rotations. If you were in the ballpark at a game, could you get the bagged peanuts they sell or is that contaminated somehow with gluten as well?

At 7:55 AM, Blogger GrewUpRural said...

My boyfriend and I go to all kinds of baseball games...from Single A to the major leagues. I always bring my own food with me to the ball games. No one has ever given me any problems.

I pack my small cooler (within the size limits) which contains a small salad, some fruit, and other gluten free treats.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Shauna said...

SLacker Mom,

It's true that sometimes a quick bite of food needs to be fuel. But once I let go of the notion that I couldn't have anything else on the menu, that burger tasted fantastic. Juicy beef, real cheddar cheese, and even semi-decent greens on the salad. There's always a way to enjoy it, for me.


Oh yes, we are kindred spirits. Does that mean we will never get to meet in the flesh? I want to eat with you!


Oh, the Cubs and Wrigley field. That can't be all bad! As far as the peanuts go, my inclination is to call the ball park a week in advance, ask to speak to someone at food services, and ask them to investigate that for you. Actually, I might just do that at Safeco...


Oh, I love single A better almost better than the majors. We have some good teams around here too. You have given me an idea... I don't think Safeco would allow me to bring in a little cooler. They're strict about security. But I'll find a way.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

That is too funny, Shauna! You and I certainly had a lot in common in our younger days, only that our baseball phases were separated in time by about ten years. Oh, and the small fact that the Dodgers were, like, Mortal Enemy No. 1 to a die-hard Giants fan. But oh, the memories! The best is undoubtedly the present my stepdad somehow conjured up for my twelfth birthday: tickets to game 7 of the 1989 playoffs, in which the Giants beat the Cubs to win the pennant. I thought my high would last forever, but then the World Series started, the earthquake struck just before game 3 at Candlestick park, and suddenly baseball didn't seem nearly so important anymore...

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Tea said...

I'm just glad you found the chef--'cause Mikhail B is mine (I've loved him longer than you:-).

Seriously, you're the only one I know who could go from baseball stars to ballet dancers and funny men. I adore this post--even thought I'm not a huge sports fan--and that photo of you and your father is priceless.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger leedav said...

Shauna- This post is funny to me because during the one year I lived in Seattle, I worked as a line cook at Pyramid. The thought of Mariner's game days still makes my heart beat at the stress. When I moved to Madison, I got a job as a baker because I needed something more low key. And then learning how to make real buttercream frosting almost sent me over the edge- but that's another story... Glad you had a good time!

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


I suppose, from this distance, I can look past your allegiance to the Giants....

Remember how important it was back then? Now, I'm just thrilled to find people with the same energy and memories, a certain passion and fond remembrances. You certainly have them, my dear.


Thank you, my dear. That's my mind — baseball to ballet to bending over double in laughter. And other such seemingly random connections. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. However, if MB were in the same room with both of us, we might just have to fight over him!


I want to hear the story about the buttercream frosting!

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Lacey said...

Whenever I go to a Mariner's game I have sushi in the stadium. They have a sushi stand on the first floor I if you like sushi then there is another option for you.


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