Of Stumptown and Opening Day

It’s April.  Spring is officially here.  Baseball is back.

Opening Day is more like “Opening Days” — three games yesterday, a few more today, a few more tomorrow, and then the season and the daily grind begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Nothing says baseball more than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, what with Charlie Brown and his baseball team.  Heck, the day I was born, the day’s Peanuts strip was about baseball.

The official Peanuts Twitter account posted this:

When I shared the image on Facebook, I added a caption: “There’s always hope on Opening Day, even for Stumptown in the Green Grass League.”

The baseball legend of Joe Shlabotnik goes through Stumptown of the Green Grass League.  Shlabotnik was a fringe player at best; after batting an astonishing .004 in a season and being sent down to Hillcrest, he’s later traded to Stumptown, a team that sinks ever deeper in the standings of the Green Grass League.  When it’s clear his playing days are over, he accepts the managerial job for the Waffeltown Syrups and, when that doesn’t pan out, he travels the sports memorabilia circuit.

Where was the Green Grass League based?  Where wss Stumptown?  I have no idea.  Charles Schulz never said, as far as I can tell.

Last summer, when listening to A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s monologue, one that involved a baseball game played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets, Lake Wobegon’s minor league baseball team, I decided then and there that it made perfect sense for Stumptown and Lake Wobegon to be part of the same league.

There is, of course, no reason why the Lake Wobegon Whippets should play in the Green Grass League against Hillsdale and Stumptown.  It seems quite improbable, and the facts we have are few.  Hillsdale and Stumptown are clearly part of organized baseball, specifically the farm system of minor leagues that support the major league teams, since Joe Shlabotnik was “sent down.”  But Lake Wobegon?  They could be part of the affiliated system, or they could be a semi-pro town team made up of local players who play for the sport of it, for the love of the game, instead of the dream of reaching the big leagues and playing in the big cities in stadiums that seat tens of thousands under the lights.  It’s likelier than not that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon would never meet on the fields of green.

Yet, in my imagination they do, for no better reason that Charles Schulz was a Minnesotan and Garrison Keillor was a Minnesotan.  The absolute silliest reason in the world, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it made a kind of intuitive sense, that these two great storytellers who worked in two very different mediums could share a common mythology, one that arose from minor league baseball teams in the backwaters of America, played in small towns in front of tiny crowds, in places where baseball was pure and simple and innocent.  That sufficed for me, and I will forever think that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon have played an intense rivalry for at least fifty years in ancient wooden ballparks that were throwbacks to an earlier time even when they were built before the war.

No matter who you root for, whether it’s Stumptown or the Chicago Cubs, Opening Day brings with it the promise of hope and the belief that anything is possible.

Play ball!

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