LLOYD GRAY:

By Lloyd Gray

The stadium on a recent night had pretty much emptied out by the bottom of the ninth in the 15-0 game. The guy several vacant rows behind us had enjoyed a few too many and was awash with exuberant optimism.
“Just 15 runs is all we need,” he hollered. “We can do it.”
They couldn’t, of course, and it was the worst Cardinals defeat in 51 years. Just think of it this way, I said to my daughters: You witnessed a bit of baseball history.
Like so many other times, it was just good to be there, to take it all in, to remember. A merciless drubbing, though painful, could be tolerated in that context.
We all have sacred spaces in our lives, places that combine the power of memory and the moment, that when we revisit we feel truly at home. For four generations of our family, the three incarnations of Busch Stadium in St. Louis have been such spaces, stretching all the way back to the early 1940s.
We go there time and again, year-in and year-out, because we love baseball and the Cardinals. But it is about so much more – about growing up, sharing the experience, creating the memories and passing them on. It’s part of our identity, a common language, a way we relate to each other.
Sports and their attendant loyalties are a primary memory-maker for families and friends, and we are entering the season in which sacred spaces are revisited and new memories unfold in a big way in this part of the country.
In many towns, high school football is a primary communal glue, a source of unity that can transcend all sorts of divisions. It is also the stuff of memories – for athletes, students and townspeople.
For thousands of Northeast Mississippians, the fall football pilgrimages to the campuses of Mississippi State and Ole Miss that resume in a couple of weeks will fulfill some basic human needs: to belong, to be a part of something bigger than oneself, to connect across the generations, to summon memory to enrich the present.
Winning will be important, to some more so than to others. But win or lose, many if not most will continue the ritual because they can’t imagine doing otherwise.
“Ritual” is the right word. Think of the comforting repetitions involved in the games and all that leads up to and surrounds them and how those familiar rituals, peculiar to the tribe or universal, provide a certain reassurance and are so difficult to let go.
My first memory of the earliest Busch Stadium is emerging from the ramp under the stands and seeing, for the first time, the glorious green grass and perfectly sculpted diamond dirt. Not only has that vivid memory as an 8-year-old never left me, it resurfaces every time I repeat the ritual.
Many years ago, I watched my son and daughters see the same sight for the first time, as my father had watched me, and his father him. The ritual offers us one more connection, and we’ll not easily let it go.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.