Thursday, April 27, 2017

A dream with no borders

Once upon a time, the dream was purely an American one, or at best hemispherical. It was a taped-together ball and a nailed-together bat on some dusty plot in Puerto Rico or the Dominican. It was a stiff new glove and a crisp uniform bearing the name of a local hardware store on some green paradise diamond in the suburbs.

It was a white kid, a black kid, a brown kid. It was baseball in full regalia on a hot afternoon somewhere, anywhere, in America or the Caribbean; it was a right-field-is-out sandlot aberration  when you couldn't scrounge up enough players for a real game.

Heck. You'd even take the scrawny kid with the motor skills of a tree stump if things got desperate enough.

That kid was me, and I had the dream, too, even if for me it was more along the lines of an hallucination. We were all gonna be playing in Yankee Stadium someday, in Fenway or Wrigley or Tiger Stadium. We were all gonna hit the walk-off home run that won the World Series. We were Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson.

Baseball was the American game, and we were American boys. That was the name of that tune.

And now?

Now it's a global world, not just an American one, no matter how delusional our leaders have become in their pining for an unrecoverable past. And so what happened last night in Pittsburgh was as inevitable as it was wonderful.

What happened, in the second inning, was Pirates' manager Clint Hurdle pulled a double switch. And he put a guy at second base who'd never played in a major-league game.

His name was Gift Ngoepe. He'd spent 8 1/2 years riding buses in the minors, chasing a dream that seemed to recede with every trip from Nowhere to Unknown. And he was from South Africa.

Which meant that when Gift Ngoepe stepped to the plate, it wasn't just his first major league at-bat. It was the first major league at-bat for any African in the history of the game.

You know what happened next. You saw it in the back of your mind a million times as a kid.

In his first at-bat, the first African ever to play in a major league game got a base hit.

Later he drew a walk.

Later he turned a crucial double play, and the Pirates beat the defending World Series champion Cubs 6-5.

The dream lives. And, gloriously, it lives everywhere now.

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