May 2, 2005
Postcard: Warm Thoughts

By Jess Myers

“Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti

It is a cool, gray, rainy morning, just weeks after another college hockey season has come to an abrupt halt, and the traffic is unrelenting on the drive into the city. For those hockey fans prone to view the glass as half-empty, it is a perfect morning to look on the dark side of life, to focus on the damp cold, and to curse the six long months ahead, until the next puck is dropped.

At first glance, all that can be seen through the rain-flecked windshield is the flash of soggy red tail lights, reminiscent of the sweaty uniforms in a post-game handshake between Wisconsin and Cornell. But upon further inspection, the commuter notes buds appearing on the branches of trees, and the wet grass in the median flashing the brilliant green of a Dartmouth road sweater (or maybe it's Alaska Anchorage).

Hockey season is over. The final horn inside a riverside rink in Ohio provided a soundtrack to jubilant Pioneers shedding gloves and helmets, and signifying that another harsh winter has been survived.

While more hockey is a long way off, there are joyous days to come. The commuter dreams of summer afternoons at a ballpark, listening to the crack of wood bats and noting that some athletes do just fine without one-piece composites. He envisions summer evenings, watching from a lakeside Adirondack chair, as the setting sun makes the surface of the water flash more shades of blue than you’d ever see at a Maine pep rally.

In the sweltering afternoons of August he’ll get into the oven-like car after work, roll down all the windows, and reflect on the 150-degree temperature difference encountered when one hops in the car after a January game in St. Cloud. Then he’ll pop “Thunderstruck” into the CD player, crank the volume, and pretend that two teams have just hit the ice for warm-ups.

In September it will grow cooler, and the first leaves will start to turn. The foliage transition from yellow to dark gold, and from bright red to a muted maroon will reflect the historical team colors of the defending national champs. As the weatherman first talks of snow, there will be whispered reports of captains’ practice to take in, and optimistic talk of which freshmen will make an impact right away.

Sprinkler systems will be drained and weather-stripping will be installed in preparation for months of miserable cold, ice and snow. And just as depression might otherwise set in, a band will play a rouser somewhere nearby. A white sheet of ice, painted with stripes of red and blue, will be smoothed over by a machine. Teams will file onto benches, and a man in zebra stripes will stand at a red dot in the middle of the building.

With a gunmetal gray sky threatening flurries outside, a hard rubber disk will be dropped between two men with sticks, and the cycle will begin anew.

When you need it most, after the glory of summer is gone and the elements of nature begin to rage, hockey will return to warm your heart.

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