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Time for Take Me Out

by Gabriel Greene

“In baseball, there’s no clock,” the character of Mason says early on in Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winning play. “What could be more generous than to give everyone all these opportunities and the time to seize them in, as well?” Not only are there no time limitations imposed upon the length of a baseball game, the sport, itself, seems virtually immune to the clock. Deeply rooted in its traditions and nostalgia, baseball has a timeless quality, especially when viewed in a classic ballpark like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. For every Tiger Stadium that closes, three more neoclassical “old-time” venues open. The players may change every few years, but team loyalties are passed down through generations, with as much reverence and ceremony as family heirlooms. In placing the story of Darren Lemming, a man who comes out of the closet and acknowledges being gay, within the realm of Major League Baseball, Greenberg has given the sport – and its penchant for rather willful stodginess – a sly, transgressive nudge. Darren is the charismatic, All-Star outfielder for the fictional New York Empires, a thinly veiled version of the New York Yankees. Greenberg has brought Darren’s tale to the most storied franchise of the most storied of American sports (baseball is, after all, third only to mom and apple pie in its American-ness). The Yankees are as American as their name would suggest; better still, they’re winners, and the names associated with their franchise form a veritable pantheon of greats: Ruth, DiMaggio, Berra, Gehrig, Mantle, Jackson – all larger-than-life personalities whose exploits have bled into our popular culture beyond baseball. Baseball is also the great leveler – “one of the few realms of American life in which people of color are routinely adulated by people of pallor,” as one character states – and Darren, as a biracial man (his father is white, his mother is black), serves as a sort of Everyballplayer. Indeed, the rest of the Empires’ team is an eclectic racial mix of whites, Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. But when sexual orientation is thrown into the mix, tensions begin escalating – especially when Greenberg introduces a player created in the mold of John Rocker – the tempestuous pitcher who once unleashed a racist and homophobic diatribe in the hallowed pages of Sports Illustrated. Greenberg was inspired by the story of Billy Bean, the former Los Angeles Dodger and San Diego Padre who came out of the closet in 1999, instigating a minor media frenzy and fervent debate as to whether baseball would be ready for a player to come out. To date, no other baseball players, past or present, have followed his lead. (Amidst a swirl of rumors, New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza exuberantly went on record to affirm his heterosexuality in 2002.) For the character of Mason, a gay investment banker not entirely comfortable in his own skin, baseball provides a community to which to belong. Greenberg, whose sudden infatuation with baseball mirrors that of his character, said in an interview with The Advocate, “[Baseball] truly is like falling in love – the emotional quality; it has that sort of exclusiveness,” says Greenberg. “I used to think my father and brother were absurd [for being fans]. Now, I have turned into one of those people who screams in a room. I always felt alienated in groups; this was the first crowd I ever agreed with. It was like finding a community for the first time.” But like in all communities, there is a boundary that, should one of its members cross that line, membership may be revoked. When people invest so heavily in their love for the sport – when it crosses over into one’s identity, when people take a team’s loss as hard as the players do – old prejudices can easily re-emerge. It’s okay to be gay, the thinking goes, but do you have to play baseball? Greenberg has long been fascinated with the concept of time; his plays often deal explicitly with the subject (most notably in Three Days of Rain and The Violet Hour, both seen in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre). In placing the out-and-proud Darren into the timeless realm of Major League Baseball, the playwright questions the institution’s ability to transcend other, newer societal barriers besides class and color. History may be one of baseball’s big selling points, but will the game ever be able to catch up to the present day? Time will tell. - Gabriel Greene is the Literary Assistant at Steppenwolf.