Jane Heller is the author of “Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love With the New York Yankees.” (Rodale)
Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burned. I chose another diversion during last week’s wildfire in Santa Barbara: I blogged about the Yankees.
If that makes me sound callous and unfeeling, forgive me. It’s just that I had to do something with my nervous energy while gale-force sundowner winds were whipping my city into an inferno. I could actually see the huge plumes of smoke from my living room window that first night, along with the blizzard of ashes and the odd, eerie look of a once tranquil paradise suddenly under siege. I had thought hurricanes were terrifying when I lived in Florida, but this was like a scene out of an end-of-days movie.
Trying not to panic but panicking anyway, I called my neighbor, a more seasoned veteran of California disasters. Was the fire that had exploded seemingly out of nowhere headed straight for us? Should we load up the cars and high tail it out of there?
“Not yet,” she said, reminding me that we were adjacent to one of the evacuation warning areas but not in it. “Start packing though. We need to be prepared.”
O.K., but what to take and what to leave behind?
I grabbed important papers, a few articles of clothing, my iPod, my laptop, the beret that had belonged to my beloved stepfather, the baseball that was autographed by Mickey Mantle and (this is embarrassing) my makeup case. I figured that if I were forced to take refuge at a Red Cross shelter, at least I’d have six shades of lipstick.
The phone rang with rumors of friends whose houses were burning to the ground. The local television stations suspended their regular programming to cover the fire nonstop. The Santa Barbara Independent, our weekly paper, provided astonishing photos on its Web site of planes dropping fire retardant on the flames. I couldn’t decide which was making me more anxious: staying on top of the situation or trying to block it out.
I spent that night and the next several on high alert, bags packed and in their post position beside the front door. With nothing to do but wait, I watched the Yankees, who’ve been my trusty escape ever since I can remember. My electricity flickered on and off, so my viewing was often interrupted, but I saw most of the games against the Red Sox, Rays and Orioles. Still, it was after the games, late into the night as the winds continued to buffet the house, that I really needed a distraction. I fished out my computer and went in search of Yankees bloggers.
I checked in with the usual suspects: Tyler Kepner, Peter Abraham and their fellow beat writers. There was buzz about A-Rod’s return and Manny’s suspension and the question of whether Joe Girardi would soon be on the unemployment line; about Mo’s meltdowns, injuries to Posada and Molina; and Joba’s tendency to pump his fist after a strikeout. The Yankees were not playing well, but I was oddly cheered in spite of their losses; I was immersed in baseball instead of a raging wildfire.
I moved on to my other favorite Yankees sites. Respect Jeter’s Gangstercompared Hughes’s miserable outing a
gainst the O’s to the 2009 starts by Wang, referring to the pitchers collectively as Phil-Ming. The It Is High blog parodied the day’s headlines with “Yanks hire Bristol Palin to stop team pregnancy.” And two blogs, Was Watching and Subway Squawkers, suggested that the Yankees could fill their empty luxury boxes by encouraging ticket-holders to bring their pets.
The blogs were such a tonic that I decided to post entries on my own blog, which I had considered abandoning in light of my possible evacuation. The thought of writing about the Yankees seemed trivial, unseemly, but I yearned to add my own voice to the cyberconversations. My real-life community was in flames, but my blogging community was intact and there was something incredibly reassuring about that.
I posted about the Yankees on MLBlogs, ending each entry with an update on the fire — from how many people had been evacuated to how many structures had burned. I even posted video of the scary scenes outside my house, like one of those storm reporters on the Weather Channel.
I received a lot of comments — from Yankee fans as well as Yankee haters. Everybody on MLBlogs, no matter which team they root for, wished me well, told me I was in his or her prayers and wrote, “Stay safe.” Such concern from people I’d never even met was heartening and deeply appreciated.
As of this writing, 8,700 acres have burned and 80 homes have been destroyed. But heroic firefighters from all over the country have tamed the blaze, not to mention saved lives. I made it through thanks to them — and to those who, like me, consider baseball more than a mere pastime.