We spoke the same language. That includes the men from Russia, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic.
I don’t speak Russian, Ukrainian or Spanish. That didn’t matter.
The men who speak English arrived sporting regional accents. That includes ballplayers from Staten Island, British Columbia, Tennessee, and other points across North America, from Nova Scotia to San Diego.
But we all understood each other clearly in the language of baseball. It was the lingua franca of the Roy Hobbs World Series, an event featuring about 260 teams and perhaps 4,500 players.
We spoke the same language. That includes the baseball-playing women from New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.
The 2018 Roy Hobbs World Series just wrapped up in Fort Myers. For four weeks I was, for lack of a better term, the staff writer for its newsletter, the Inside Pitch.
I also was the Roy Hobbs Baseball version of Erin Andrews, doing post-game and pre-game interviews for the website. Well, there are some differences between Erin and I.
She is tall. I’m not. She is good-looking. I’m not. She is famous and rich and talented. I’m none of those things. But that didn’t stop me from my appointed rounds asking questions.
The Roy Hobbs World Series is a refuge as blissfully free of politics and religion as it is possible find these days.
Democrat? Republican? Liberal? Conservative? It doesn’t matter at the Roy Hobbs World Series.
As I made my rounds at JetBlue Park and the CenturyLink Sports Complex and Terry Park and City of Palms Park and the old Red Sox training complex in Fort Myers I didn’t ask about politics or religion. They don’t matter.
For four weeks every year we all attend the Church of Baseball. Every baseball fan has likely seen the film “Bull Durham” and knows the description of this non-denominational, non-existent church as described by Annie Savoy, who was played by Susan Sarandon.
“I believe in the Church of Baseball,” Annie says. “I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things.
“For instance there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball and it’s never boring.”
But the real world and real religion did intrude on the 2018 Roy Hobbs World Series for two players. It intruded in a bloody, intolerant, monstrous fashion just before Stan Lederman and Howard Elson left Pittsburgh to play baseball in Fort Myers.
Lederman and Elson are members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
On Oct. 27, 11 members of their congregation were gunned down by an anti-Semitic madman/gunman with an AR 15. It was the worst massacre of Jews in American history.
On a sunny day shortly after the shooting I met Elson and Lederman at a JetBlue Park practice field. They played for a team called Maine Woods and took time during a game to chat in the bleachers about what happened in their synagogue, their neighborhood and their city.
Baseball was a welcome escape.
“This year is not about hits and runs,” Lederman told me as we sat in the shade of the bleachers a few steps from his team’s dugout. “It’s about clearing my mind.”
Like countless others whatever their politics or religion or lack of same, there remains something magical about donning a baseball uniform, stepping on a field and sticking your hand in a glove and feeling a baseball smack into the pocket with a satisfying plock.
Lederman has a ritual he goes through every year at the Roy Hobbs World Series, changing only the age as he speaks through the routine.
“The first day,” he told me, “I say to myself out loud and I pound my glove and I say, ‘you’re 71 years old. You’re standing on a major-league baseball field. You’re playing in a game that means something.’ It doesn’t get any better than this.”
No, it doesn’t get any better than this.
That’s why men and women come in from all over, even the other side of the globe and a place one degree north of the Equator.
That would be Steve Mahoney, who played for the Atlanta Astros. He now resides in Singapore, which is at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula and only about 85 miles north of the Equator.
To reach Fort Myers and reunite with old baseball buddies Mahoney spent 24 hours in the air. He flew eight hour to Doha, Qatar and then took a 16-hour direct flight to Miami.
What does his wife, Marijo, think of Steve flying 24 hours to play games?
“She thinks I’m a little crazy,” Mahoney told me.
Maybe we all are. Maybe everybody who speaks the language of baseball and worships at the Church of Baseball is a “little crazy.”
That includes Sean Broom, who lists his occupation on Facebook as Professional Stamp Licker.
Sean has a wry sense of humor and hasn’t raised three sons who are all on the autism spectrum by licking stamps. No, he’s a corporate recruiter.
Oh, and he’s a baseball player, one who revels in his time at the Roy Hobbs World Series every fall.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” Sean told me one day at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
I had to ask the natural follow-up question. Even more wonderful than Christmas?
“Even more wonderful than Christmas,” Sean said. “For a baseball player this is your Christmas.”