After having been to New York so many times, it’s nice to be surprised. This time around, thanks to wonderful friends of ours, my wife and I had an opportunity to explore Inwood, at Manhattan’s very northern tip. Spanish can be readily heard in the area, and there are also many young professional couples with very young children. Admittedly, as in many city neighborhoods, there is a very noticeable divide between the affluent and not-so-affluent. While this is always discouraging, at least there is some interaction between socioeconomic groups, and it’s great to hear so many bilingual people. While it’s a vibrant area, it doesn’t have the ferocious intensity that you get in the midtown and downtown neighborhoods.
Our first surprise was the glorious Inwood Park. You’re greeted by huge gently rolling carefully tended grass fields, plenty of well-kept pathways, and an impressive Hudson river view.
Our first park stroll had an athletic theme. [Maybe I should have put this article in my training blog] A very buff, shirtless young man was doing some pull-ups. The personal trainer in me could not resist making some snotty sotto voce comments to my wife about his form. Lonnie laughed, and added that I should go and show him how it’s done. I said, no, I’m not like that, and normally that’s true. The chest-beating one-upmanship crap is so juvenile. This may be why people always underestimate my fitness level. She cajoled me, and finally, I said OK. He was so young and athletic, why not give him the benefit of having an elder show him how to do it right? I went over, and out of the corner of my eye, made sure that he was watching. In street clothes and with no warm-up, I snapped off 6 perfect pullups, well over the bar. I could have probably done two or three more with a struggle and/or a warm-up, but hey, that wouldn’t have looked as cool, and after all, I was on vacation; why work? So I smoked him, and it was hard to wipe the smiles off of our faces. As we walked away with bemused expressions, I could see him getting back up there for more pullups – he had to save face, and wasn’t going to let that old bastard show him up.
We continued our walk into the forest area of the park. At that point, it was hard to believe that we were in New York, period. We passed the spot that was purportedly where the initial sale of Manhattan to the Dutch took place for around 60 guilders. Does this look like New York City?
There are some trails that go far into the lush forest. Now and then, the bucolic atmosphere may be interrupted by one of the struggling joggers that are so common in New York. We walked up a long hill, heard birds softly singing, looked up through the branches of very tall trees, and saw… a gigantic suspension bridge.
The athletic tinge of our walk returned when we emerged from the forest and found the gorgeous baseball fields. Batting practice was underway, completely in Spanish. Earlier that week I had been kicking myself for missing Stephen Strasburg’s storied triple-A minor league debut in Syracuse, my hometown. Though I still have a chance of seeing him before he’s kicked up to the majors, he may be gone before we return. But somehow this scene in the park was poignant in a way that the super-hyped pitcher was not. The players, who I assumed were most likely Dominican, were set up for batting practice, with a cleverly-designed protective screen in front of the pitcher, who was coaching the younger guys. Though young, the players were all business, with no joking or horsing around. The first batter was very skilled, loudly smacking most of the pitches with impressive authority, spraying hard line drives and flyballs all over the field. The fielders were catching the hits with an easy grace. The temperature was 90 degrees, but didn’t seem to deter them much, if at all, and I wondered if this scorching heat were similar to that experienced while playing ball in the República Dominicana.
After many hits by the hotshot, the coach called up the next hitter. This was a younger, somewhat gangly boy, who swung as hard as he could, but was a bit of a flailer. Instead of throwing regular pitches this time, the coach stood only about 10 feet to the kid’s right, and tossed underhand to the youth, who tried to hit them into the field. He offered a lot of advice to the batter as he threw, and I kept wondering if the kid would smack a foul ball into the coach’s face. Then the coach walked up to the batter, stood in front of the kid, held out his open hand like a target, and told the kid to swing at it. This looked scary, despite the coach’s evident skill. The boy swung, and pulled back just enough to stop right at the coach’s hand, and did that several more times. Maybe this was the lesson in accuracy and control.
Then the coach had the batter get into a batting stance. Slowly and patiently, the coach moved the boy’s hands very slightly to change the bat angle, adjusted his shoulders an inch or two, tipped his head just a fraction left and up, and had him change his leg posture ever so slightly, gesturing to illustrate each point, and all the while giving verbal instructions to the boy, who nodded as he absorbed the coach’s instructions. Every kid should have a wise, patient, and skilled mentor like this coach in their life, I thought.
As the heat mounted further, we decided to move on. While we walked away from the batting area, I happened to glance to my left, and suddenly realized a foul ball was heading right for us. I jumped to catch the ball, managing to deflect it before it hit Lonnie. Feeling lucky, we reflected on the beauty we had found in this park, natural and otherwise, as we left the park and headed into the city heat.