My baseball diorama

Pandemic Park

This spring, the news broke that baseball season would be but a dugout shadow of its former self — no fans, but cardboard cutouts of them. No inappropriate cheers, but a soundtrack of static. Disappointing, but — then again — this pandemic has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the virtual and real. Semioticians like Umberto Eco must be having a field day — reality simulating reality. there’s no crying in baseball so I decided to step up and make my own stadium — with a twist.

A few years ago, we had to let go of an old oak sideboard. The two side drawers could no longer pivot on their hinges, and when I tried to close them, the legs would wobble. We feared it would collapse during a dinner party (remember those?), so I took most of it to the dump but saved the bottom drawer. I liked its deco-like sections. I stuffed it way in the black hole of our garage. On opening day, I stubbed my toe on it, pulled it out, turned it vertically, and voilá! I’d build my own stadium without leaving the house. I’d call it Pandemic Park.

I used bulletin-board letters from a giveaway cigar box I picked up at a garage sale — just enough to spell out Pandemic Park. The hand crank player piano has a dual purpose. It plays “Take me out to the Ballgame,” but also doubles as a convenient hook for my face-mask. A baseball peeks out from the side of the frame, but can’t be used. It’s stuck inside. Like us.

A few years ago, we had to let go of an old oak sideboard. The two side drawers could no longer pivot on their hinges, and when I tried to close them, the legs would wobble. We feared it would collapse during a dinner party (remember those?), so I took most of it to the dump but saved the bottom drawer. I liked its deco-like sections. I stuffed it way in the black hole of our garage. On opening day, I stubbed my toe on it, pulled it out, turned it vertically, and voilá! I’d build my own stadium without leaving the house. I’d call it Pandemic Park.

From the bottom up

I used bulletin-board letters from a giveaway cigar box I picked up at a garage sale—just enough to spell out Pandemic Park. The hand crank player piano has a dual purpose. It plays “Take me out to the Ballgame,” but also doubles as a convenient hook for my face-mask. A baseball peeks out from the side of the frame, bottom, but can’t be used. It’s stuck inside. Like us.

To the left, a catcher stands behind a batter, but no one is throwing a pitch. No one is swinging weighted bats in the on-deck circle, either. Above the circle, the ubiquitous “Stay Home!” order. To the right, a spring-loaded pin-ball baseball game with players on the field, frozen in their positions—as if from an earlier era—like last season. Above the game are three stick-on circular furniture pads—one with a green bead (go), a yellow bead on another (caution), and on the third, the largest: a red crazy person with two hands up, warning people to stay away. Above that, a Dodgers banner, because…well…there should always be a Dodgers banner. I’ll explain, soon, if you haven’t lost track and gone to the refrigerator. Even then, I’d understand.

Pandemic: 1918, 2020

Peek inside, and you will see two plastic dead people. I inserted the card of an early St. Louis Nationals player from a pop-up book, drew on a Sharpie mask, and added 1918 (for our last pandemic). Quick lecture: according to the Pandemic Archive, “the Health Commissioner for the city of St. Louis urges citizens to avoid fatigue, alcohol, and crowds, and to get plenty of fresh air and to avoid those who are ill.” Do we ever learn? The panel on the right includes a headless player, the words “Yer out,” and a danger sign.

Top three panels

These three panels include a pitcher throwing to a catcher, but there is no batter (bottom left) Behind them is a bank of stadium lights (ok..buttons) illuminating no action. In the panel above them, the VHS box (only) of the movie, “Damn Yankees.” As far as I am concerned (with or without a pandemic), it’ll always be Damn Yankees. Other countries follow public health instructions. We Yankees don’t bother. Damn. Gwen Verdon graces the cover, maskless, oblivious.

The large panel houses a $5 glove I snapped up at the local thrift store. I added a face mask and wedged in a paper bat souvenir from an “Old Timer’s Day” game at Dodger Stadium, where my family watched me scream myself hoarse because Sandy Koufax (my childhood hero…kinda still is) was there. I was turning 60. Back then, you could high-five complete strangers…even scream. Today, Dodger Stadium is LA’s largest Coronavirus testing and vaccine site.

Behind the glove is a copy of Koufax’s scouting card (from the same pop-up book). As it turns out, Koufax signed his first contract on May 15, 1954 — two days after I was born. The number “32” is pasted on the outside top of the frame (Koufax’s number). But I digress here. This pandemic has seriously addled my mind. Again, Umberto Eco: “cogito interruptus.”

The sawed-off end of a bat peeks out of the side of the frame, unusable like the ball at the bottom, holds a baseball tie one of my kids gave me. Why dress up? Where do I have to go?

Buddha, Baseball, Waiting for a Fly Ball

Atop the frame and away from the action, a tiny ceramic Buddha cradles a yellow baseball bat. Buddhism’s four noble truths are at work here: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. Heavy, I know. A lonely player, away from the action, crouches. Nothing is coming his way.

For that “museum” look, I retrofitted a sneeze guard instead of using glass. Lord help me. That’s Pandemic Park. At 66, I have resorted to fashioning an 8th-grade diorama from an old drawer with enough hackneyed baseball metaphors to fill a stadium.

My testament to baseball does not include Donald Trump because I would have to look at him every time I sat at my desk. So, there are no orange peels for hair, no Trump heads for batting practice, no solitary figure perched on his single “base,” no McDonald's wrappers, no plastic TV playing his tribunal in front of the criminal court at the Hague for crimes against humanity—lives heartlessly stranded, struck out, swept aside, sidelined, stolen…and toes tagged. Sure, I long for America’s past-time (misspelled for its painful dad-joke irony), but “Make American Great Again?” No. “Yer out!”

An update since the election: we took a knee, we stood up, and we threw the bum out. If we’re able to start leveling the playing field, I have already promised myself I will build a lighter version, hopefully around Spring training. I’ll start looking in the garage for something to use. I’ll be listening to it on the radio, just like the ‘ol days.

Play ball!

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Founder of Teachers Without Borders | fred@twb.org

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Fred Mednick

Fred Mednick

Founder of Teachers Without Borders | fred@twb.org

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