Almost Home
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Almost Home

THAT TINGLY FEELING

It must hit everybody at the same time — that tingly feeling that says “it’s almost time for baseball.” I knew it had arrived because two Wednesdays ago my husband Don, who is the real author of this blog, plopped a baseball cap on his head for the first time this year.

Gone was his knit hat, the headgear that kept his ears warm all winter and kept the wind off the bald spot on the top of his head. The French call this hat a bonnet. Male or female, it can be startling to hear yourself called on as the customer in the bonnet when you’re standing in line at the boulangerie or bakery. You look around to see if Sunbonnet Sue has slipped into line behind you.

Don en casquette before the gendarmes arrived

No such worries now. Don is wearing a casquette (baseball cap). Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but it was February 17, the day major league pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, that he first put it on.

But something more seemed to be at work. The same day, Don’s grandfather’s baseball bat took up residence in our entryway. It looks more like a caveman’s club than one of today’s baseball bats, so it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to our décor. It weighs more than the one Babe Ruth used. Then again, Grandpa was a strapping young farm boy who played ball in the 19th century. Once or twice a day, Don lugs it out to the hallway for a few swings.

Bat or club?

Another thing — weighted baseballs made an appearance. Early in the morning, shortly after our 6 p.m.-6 a.m. corona virus curfew is lifted, Don now drops the baseballs into a bag with his glove, puts on his casquette and mask, and heads to the nearby Trocadéro gardens just across the River Seine from the Eiffel Tower to do some throwing. It’s an inspiring spot because the very first professional baseball game ever played in France took place only a few meters away.

That was in February of 1889 shortly before the Eiffel Tower opened to commemorate the Centennial of the French Revolution. The game, organized by sporting goods magnate A.G. Spaulding, featured the Chicago White Stockings against the All-Americans. The Tower, although it too has had some bad moments, has done a better job holding on to its place than baseball has in France.

For now, Don keeps baseball alive at that location. He tries to get to Trocadéro before the gendarmes, or French police, begin their daily rounds, even though he’s found a wall there he can throw against without being stopped by the cops. He learned to avoid many spots after several confrontations a couple of years ago when the police forcefully pointed out that buildings at Trocadéro are National Monuments and are to be protected — especially from Americans wielding baseballs.

Those confrontations were as heated as any Don has had with umpires. After the first, shall we say, tête-á-tête with a pair of cops, he found a secluded place off the main plaza near a public toilet which hadn’t been used in years. No sooner had he begun throwing against the rusted iron door than the same cops suddenly appeared.

“Whaddya want now?” Don said. He was feeling ornery and determined to exercise his rights as an American. The gendarmes were not impressed and told him to stop throwing. “We warned you before,” they said.

“But I’m not hurting anything,” Don replied. “Look, this is a baseball and that’s a damn toilet! A toilet! Do you hear?”

“Yes,” one of the gendarmes said, “but the toilet is attached to the larger building which makes it part of a national monument so you have to stop.”

“And you must be a complete idiot!” Don snapped, forgetting that people in France, unlike the U.S., don’t talk back to the police, not if they want to avoid serious trouble. He had completely lost it. Only when the gendarmes began advancing did he hold up his hands and say, “Okay, okay, I get it, I’ll stop.”

Maybe it was Don’s accent and the fact that he wasn’t French that saved him but the cops seemed satisfied and finally drifted away. Don drifted home.

Yet there’s even more to this “tingly feeling” that’s come over us in the past few days than avoiding gendarmes and remembering old games. It’s something Mother Nature seemed to feel, too. She suddenly changed course. After the longest spell of really cold weather that we can ever remember having in Paris, last week — on that Wednesday to be exact, yes, the day major league pitchers and catchers reported for spring training — temperatures shot spring-ward. All the ice patches melted away and the sun began to shine on the City of Light. Paris found its sparkle.

All we need now is the cry of “Play ball!” and the crack of a bat.

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Don and Petie Kladstrup

Don and Petie Kladstrup

American writers living in France, working on forthcoming book, “Almost Home: Playing Baseball in France.” Authors, “Wine & War,” and “Champagne.”