You don't know the half of it, partner.
Italy is a lovely place, full of more or less kind people who are willing to forgive monolingual Americans their spastic attempts at communicating through six or seven Italian words, idiotic smiles and kabuki-sized arm gestures of questionable meaning. But all this kindness can't make up for an irreducible lack in Europe: There is no baseball.
I know, there's no baseball back home right now either. But it's different. It started with the absence of baseball fields below the airplane flying from Amsterdam to Milan — I suppose the rectangles of soccer fields evoke some poetry in the hearts of European travelers, but I'm not one of them. What I wouldn't do to glimpse, through ragged clouds, the rounded wedge of a baseball field with a diamond at its heart.
Still, there is baseball here, in a way. Channel-surfing late-night Italian TV is a blur of homegrown Italian slapstick, oddly dubbed American movies and shows (watching “Lassie” in Italian is the equivalent of several blows to the head), softcore personals featuring vaguely scuzzy naked girls and, every once in a while, a Wii ad featuring an Italian family battling at computer baseball. (By the way, using baseball to entice Italians to buy a Wii seems like the equivalent of luring Americans with computer petanque, but then what do I know?) Then there was last night, when a colleague and I walked up Milan's most-famous shopping street, the Via Montenapoleone, and one of the chicer-than-chic display windows had a pyramid of softballs in it. I stared at those red stitches on white like I was gazing at the Holy Grail, which in a way I was.
Oh, and far too many Italians wear Yankees gear.
Entering my third week in Europe, I can say with renewed venom that the ubiquity of the Yankees makes it all the more clear what a fucking scourge they truly are. I swear, I could visit a band of headhunters south of Java and at least two of them would be wearing blingy hats with the goddamn Vertical Swastika on it. This morning I was walking back to the office with my however-many-millilitres of Coca-Cola and a kid in full Yankee regalia flagged me down to ask for directions. He's probably wondering why the weird American's Mi dispiace, non capisco Italiano sounded gleeful rather than apologetic. I mean, I get that the Yankees are an American symbol — it's just that they're the wrong American symbol, the sports equivalent of an supersized carbon footprint. I miss the hell out of baseball, but God forbid I should ever miss it enough to find comfort in the sight of a Yankee hat.
To be sure, I have access to the Internet, and I've faithfully made the rounds of Metsblog and the newspaper sites and ESPN. We're hell-bent on trading Aaron Heilman, want to employ Derek Lowe, are playing footsie with Orlando Hudson and like Brian Fuentes better than K-Rod, or at least we're saying so for agents' consumption. I get all that. But even though it's the same cyberspace reached from my desk back in Brooklyn, it's different. The World Series expired quietly in the pouring rain in the middle of the Amsterdam night, leaving me to awaken in a world without baseball. (And taking the $20 I'd bet on the Rays back in January at 175-to-1 with it, more's the pity) And now there's nothing at all.
That's not nothing as in “no baseball,” though that's bad enough. It's the Big Nothing, marked by knowing that no other soul within 100 miles is trying to figure out how to get rid of fucking Luis Castillo, or waiting to give Johan Santana a standing O, or wondering with equal parts anxiety and excitement about that first walk into Citi Field. I'm homesick for my wife and my son and my friends and my familiar streets, but it would also make me borderline giddy to see an NY in orange and blue, or a back emblazoned with WRIGHT 5.
When that finally happens it'll still be November, baseball-free as always, but man oh man will it be a happier November.