The characters in this story are, for the most part, older people for whom family takes a place of central importance in their lives. The narrator not only loves his wife but his love of baseball is closely tied to his relationships with his daughters and granddaughter. One daughter, who lives in Japan, is physically far away, but because she has remained a fan who sits on the first-base side of the park, he feels close to her. His other daughter, who lives in the same town, he feels less close to, since she has gone over to the third-base side of the park. And his granddaughter travels between the two, sitting on his lap when she goes to games with him, and sitting with her parents on the other side of the park when she attends games with them. That the narrator sits with his granddaughter is one of the first things the rich man mentions when he meets with the narrator, and he laments that his own grandchildren ‘‘live over a thousand miles away.’’ Baseball is often described as a family sport, one that families attend together and that has rituals, like how to fill out a score card, that are passed down from generation to generation. Part of the nostalgia both the narrator and the rich man feel for a golden age of baseball stems from their love of their children, and the pleasure they derived from taking them to games and teaching them the culture of baseball.
The restoration of nature to its rightful place is the driving force behind the nighttime project to replace the artificial turf with real grass. Baseball is a game that these characters feel ‘‘is meant to be played . . . on grass just cut by a horse-drawn mower,’’ not on ‘‘plastic grass.’’ Throughout the story, nature is a force that refuses to be defeated by the efforts of human beings. When the narrator first pulls up to the empty ball field, he notices that weeds are popping up through the gravel of the parking lot ‘‘surprised at their own ease.’’ When the narrator enters the park, despite the carpet of artificial turf, he notices that there is a single weed near the pitcher’s mound, ‘‘perhaps two inches high . . . defiant in the rain-pocked dirt.’’ And after the narrator and the rich man place their first square foot of real grass, they contemplate sending the cut pieces of artificial turf to the baseball executives who need reminding ‘‘not to tamper with Nature.’’ Both the narrator and the rich man, as well as the parade of elderly men who come bearing grass and the tools to care for that grass, all seem to share a sense that baseball itself is a sort of natural activity. It’s a game that takes place outdoors, on gentle summer evenings, and they all bring to it memories of playing as children, on dirt and grass, and the restoration of the park is seen by them all as a restoration of the game to its true nature.
Nostalgia is a longing for the conditions of the past. It is usually a sentimental condition, however, sometimes, as in ‘‘The Thrill of the Grass,’’ nostalgia can be a powerful motivating force. The narrator starts events in motion because of his nostalgia for a time when the baseball season was not interrupted by strikes between the players and managers, for a time when baseball was played on proper natural grass, and for a time when he was young, and still filled with the hope that he could have a career as a shortstop. While the narrator and the other old men know they cannot turn back the clock, their goal is not simply to replace the hated artificial turf with real grass but to rekindle their memories of why they loved the game so much in the first place. The narrator invites the men to care once again, and to demonstrate their care, as they once did when ‘‘delivering a valentine to a sweetheart’s door,’’ by bringing gifts to the park. In replacing the artificial surface of the park, they both look to the past, when they feel that baseball was a more pure game, and prepare for the future, when the strike will end, and baseball will move once more into the present.
Because baseball is the only major-league sport that is not timed and games can take as much time as they need to play out, it transcends, or rises above, the time constraints that rule most other pastimes. This appeals to true fans, because they feel that games can play out as they should, without the artificial constraints of timed periods. However, because baseball games play out in their own time, some impatient people find baseball boring. Baseball is also considered transcendental because of the nearly religious beliefs its fans bring to it. In ‘‘The Thrill of the Grass,’’ the narrator refers to the sides of the park from which fans choose to watch the game as being like religious denominations. The narrator is drawn to the rich man not only because he sits near him in the park, but because he can tell that the rich man is drawn to ‘‘the beauty and mystery of the game.’’ There are any number of images in this story that underscore the transcendent nature of the narrator’s quest. He tells us that he ‘‘often remain[s] high in the stadium, looking down on the men moving over the earth,’’ as though he is a godlike figure. He looks forward to the surprise when the grass is revealed because he feels ‘‘like a magician,’’ and he refers to the restoration of the grass as ‘‘the miracle we have created.’’ These older men take on this secret task in order to transcend the ordinary realities of their lives, and to restore some of the sense of magic they felt about not only baseball but life when they were younger.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, W.P. Kinsella, Published by Gale Group, 2010