This is a story about baseball, about the enduring pull of baseball across time, class, and gender. It begins at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which, if you look at a Google map, is about 4 inches or 71 miles to the right of Lodi.
It’s a popular family campground, not only because of its giant sequoias, or its cooling 4800 feet of elevation, or that the Stanislaus River runs through it, or the easy morning trips to three historic parks and Mercer Caverns; it’s popular because the park is a known kid magnet. Which brings us to Audrey Collette, her son, and later, to baseball.
Audrey grew up on a farm in Western Oregon. “Our land abutted BLM land, so I was always running around on deer trails by myself. I took my first backpacking trip when I was 11. Every summer and fall, and sometimes spring, I’d go backpacking. I’ve done lots of seven- to ten-day wilderness trips. I’ve backpacked along the Teton Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked Pike’s Peak by myself. It was always horrifying to come out of the wilderness and see people. I’ve got a backpacking mentality.”
Time passes. Audrey has a son, Justin. They love primitive camping. Justin was 2½ when he kayaked his first rapid. But, as Justin grew older — he’s 8 years old now — what he wants to do is go to a campground where there’ll be other kids to play with. Which brings us back to Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
It’s a compromise for Audrey, one she’s happy to make. She gets some nature time, Justin gets a campground stuffed with cohorts. So, they arrive at Calaveras as the sun set on Sunday. “Maybe it was 8 o’clock, still light, but coming on to dark. I was hurrying to get the tent sent up. The noise from across the way was unabating, sounded like a bunch of teenagers. They yelled to each other from different camp sites. ‘ARE YOU COMING DOWN?’ ‘YEAH, WE’RE COMING DOWN!’ ‘WE’RE COMING DOWN, TOO!’
“It was a whole family. It’s mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, sisters, aunts, uncles, a huge conglomeration. They had three sites. The quiet curfew is 10 o’clock. I thought, At least this is going to stop at 10, and it totally didn’t. I had to take a sleeping pill.
“Day 2. Our site is on the tip of a big bend in the road across from the obnoxious family. To get to their spots they’re walking through mine. Obnoxious teenagers are playing this lacrosse kind of game, running through my camp and raising dust. The guy who almost lit the forest on fire is camped next to them.
“Trailer Man is also parked across the street. He looked like he was in his 50s and pretty healthy. He seemed a little socially awkward, just a little bit, not bad. I was curious about Trailer Man because of his huge mother lode of a trailer and the big white truck that pulled it. Both were spanking-clean new. They give you 30 feet of driveway to park these things. He couldn’t fit the truck and the trailer in. This is the kind of trailer a family uses.
“Justin and I are sitting down to dinner. We’re trying to eat by 7:30. All of a sudden — blast-o-freaking-rama — I hear, ‘...PADRES!’ It’s the Padres and the Giants. The game is on Trailer Man’s radio. Remember that Spinal Tap movie, the mockumentry, where the guy, Nigel, has this super amplifier for his guitar? Most amplifiers go to 10. Nigel says, ‘Mine goes to 11.’
“Trailer Man is, like, ‘My freaking radio goes to 11.’ There was no reason for it to be that insanely loud. Anyone with any common sense would realize he’s in a state park. And I’m having talks with my son the whole time about treading lightly, picking up litter, and keeping your voice down in the morning so we don’t wake people.
“I couldn’t friggin’ believe it. I couldn’t hear the birdies sing. I didn’t get a quiet night when we arrived. It’s Night 2 and all I can hear is the PADRES! It’s extremely intrusive.
“I want my quiet camping experience, but at the same time I love listening to baseball. I was brought up listening to sports on radio; that’s where you get the details. So, I find myself listening to the game even though I’m not here to listen to a baseball game. I think, Tune it out, look at the chipmunks running around, enjoy the night sky, talk to my kid. And then, every once in awhile, there’s, ‘HE’S ROUNDING SECOND BASE!’
“Sounded like a damn good game.”