When he wakes up in the 21st century, SHIELD tells him everything they think he needs to know: how the war ended, all the subsequent wars and wars-that-were-technically-conflicts, relevant happenings in the rest of the world. They tell him about women’s rights, gay rights, and civil rights. They give him an information packet that might as well be a textbook, hundreds of pages of facts upon facts in small print that would have strained his eyes back before he joined the army, occasionally broken up by a picture or two.
No one tells him that the Dodgers aren’t in Brooklyn anymore.
The first time Steve has a spare moment to himself, after Norse gods and assorted aliens had finished attacking New York and most of the mess had been cleaned up, Steve decides to go visit his old neighborhood. He doesn’t have any explicit plan in mind - maybe he’ll drop in on Pratt, where he’d sat in on a few art classes, or swing by Ebbets Field and try and get tickets for the game, if there is one. He’d gone to dozens of games there, growing up, and he looks forward to the familiar sight of the stadium rising before him as he walks up Sullivan Place.
Instead, there’s an apartment complex.
He doesn’t ask any of the neighborhood folks why Ebbets Field isn’t there, because for all he knows it was demolished ten years ago and he doesn’t want to attract undue attention. Instead, he takes the subway back to Manhattan and the Avengers’ headquarters in what had been Stark Tower. “I went looking for Ebbets Field today,” he says to the first person he finds - Bruce, who’s rummaging in cabinets in the main kitchen. “Seems like it isn’t there anymore. You know where the Dodgers’ new stadium is?”
“Uh,” Bruce says, because other than the Olympics, Bruce doesn’t ever pay that much attention to sports.
“Los Angeles,” says Tony, lounging in the doorway, and Steve sits down hard on the nearest chair.
“When did that happen?”
“Nineteen fifty-something,” he says. “Hey, JARVIS, when did the Dodgers move out of Brooklyn?”
“Right, I guess no one told you that, huh?”
Steve shakes his head. Tony walks over and pats his shoulder. “The Giants, too, they’re in San Francisco.”
“So the Yankees are the only team now?” he asks despairingly.
“Nah, not for awhile, the Mets came to town in—”
“—1962, thanks, JARVIS. They’re over in Queens, we can go to a game sometime, fight against the Steinbrenners and corporate America.”
Bruce snorts, and Steve can’t keep himself from laughing either. “Don’t tell me Stark Industries doesn’t own at least one sports team,” Bruce says.
Tony looks affronted. “Don’t think so small! Stark Industries is the major sponsor of half of the US Olympic teams! We had to cut a deal with Nike to let them have the rest, they do the sneakers, we do the swimsuits and the speed skaters, everything that involves skin-tight outfits, actually, our R&D department’s been doing some great stuff lately with aerodynamic fabrics. That’s not corporate America, my friends, that is pure American patriotism.”
Even if they hadn’t told him about the civil rights movement, he would have figured it out eventually, what with Director Fury being in charge of SHIELD and all. There’s also Colonel Rhodes, and though Steve’s only met him a few times, he seems to be CO of an integrated unit. And a colored man is President! (“Don’t say ‘colored,’” Tony winces, when Steve mentions this. “It’s not a very polite term. Just say black. Or African-American, unless they’re not American, in which case, don’t.” It’s all news to Steve - colored used to be the polite term.)
Sports are fully integrated, too, and Steve feels a swell of pride when he finds out that the first person to break the color barrier played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He wishes he could’ve been there to see Jackie Robinson play - to see the Dodgers win the World Series in ‘55! There are newsreels and highlights of lots of old games on television and the internet, and he drinks them all in eagerly.
A reporter catches him off guard during a routine press conference one day. “Captain America, you’re from New York City, aren’t you?” the reporter asks, and Steve affirms that technically yes, he is, but really he’s from Brooklyn. “So which baseball team do you support?”
And the SHIELD public relations department has briefed him on the importance of presenting a neutral and inoffensive front, and he’s had extensive anti-interrogation training, but he still finds himself blurting, “Well, I couldn’t ever root for the Yankees!”
Look, there’s some instincts that just beat everything.
The PR people have a collective aneurysm. The Mets send him a baseball cap, a ball autographed by the whole team, an invitation to throw out the first pitch for any game of his choosing, and perennial season tickets for his own reserved box seats behind home plate. They also ask if he’d be willing to do an advertising campaign for them, but he turns that one down.
In-costume, he does a lot of tours of children’s hospitals and army bases, ostensibly because it makes for good publicity for the Avengers and because it raises awareness of causes that may or may not urgently require donation, but mostly because he likes making sick kids smile and letting soldiers know they’re not forgotten. Out of costume, he pulls on an old Brooklyn Dodgers ballcap that someone found for him and goes to visit the VA, not as Captain America but just a guy named Steve who likes to spend time with old vets because they remind him of his grandfather. (Steve’s actual grandfather immigrated to the United States sometime in the 1890s. His name was James and he was a milkman.) The hat’s a conversation starter; someone’ll see him wearing it and say, “Good lord, I haven’t seen a hat like that in ages, where’d you get a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, son?”
“It was my grandfather’s,” he says, and he doesn’t like lying, but it’s a whole heck of a lot easier than telling the truth. “He grew up right in Flatbush and used to tell me all these stories about watching the Dodgers play. I always wished I could’ve been there.”
That’s usually all it takes before the vets start telling baseball stories - there’s still a deep, deep heartache among Brooklynites at the loss of their team and the owners’ betrayal. Everyone still mourns like it was yesterday. But there are happier stories, too: Stanley could’ve played professionally if he hadn’t gotten shot in the knee during the war, Frank met his wife at a Dodgers game, and one time Carl caught a Mickey Mantle home run ball. That last one sets off the argument of Mays vs. Mantle, Snider vs. DiMaggio, and Steve’s not lying when he says, “I sure wish I could’ve seen them play.” He supposes you could argue that statement, since Joe DiMaggio started playing before the war in the 1930s, but the games weren’t on television back then. The closest Steve ever got to seeing DiMaggio play was newspaper photographs and radio broadcasts from all those World Series games the Yankees played in.
As quickly as the baseball stories flow, it isn’t easy to coax war stories out of most of the men. The ones who’ll talk, it’s because their war stories don’t come with the baggage of trauma. Ed spent the war running a radio truck in the Philippines, ignoring Tokyo Rose and listening to bombs drop on every island but his; Stanley was stationed first in Scotland and then in Switzerland, assigned to the OSS (“That’s the CIA before the CIA even existed”), and half of his army records are still classified even though he swears all he did was type letters. He tries to enter into conversation with Benny, who fought at Omaha Beach, but Benny just shakes his head and looks away, lips thinning into a pale line.
Benny doesn’t talk about the war, and neither does Michael, who fought at Iwo Jima. He tells Steve, “Watch those two Clint Eastwood movies, both of them. He got it right.”
So when Steve gets home, he enlists JARVIS’s help and downloads all sorts of World War II movies to the television in his room. He starts with both of the Clint Eastwood movies and Saving Private Ryan as well, then backtracks to watch Casablanca and Bridge over the River Kwai and a dozen other movies besides. He watches Schindler’s List and Escape from Sobibor and isn’t ashamed to admit that he cries most of the way through them, through almost all of the pictures, really, because of human cruelty and human endurance both. SHIELD can feed him all the historical facts that they want, but Steve knows that the real history is what happens to individual human beings.
It’s Agent Hill, surprisingly, who brings him the full set of Ken Burns’ Baseball: “All ten innings,” she says, lips quirking into a sort of half-smile that’s the only smile she ever gives. “I thought you might want to catch up on some of what you’ve missed.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Steve says, touched. “Thank you.”
“Just don’t watch them alone,” she tells him. “That’s an order, Captain. Watching baseball’s not supposed to be a solitary activity.”
Orders are orders. Rather than watch them in his room, he takes the box of DVDs into the shared living room on a Tuesday night when he knows everyone will be bored and looking for something to do for a couple of hours, assuming they’re not taking target practice or blowing things up in the lab. So, yeah, the first couple of nights it’s just him and Thor, because Thor wants to improve his knowledge of human history and also approves of a game that is based around hitting things with big sticks. (Thor’s second-favorite sport thus far is hockey. Tony had to buy out an arcade so Thor could play his #1 favorite sport, Whack-a-Mole.) But the next night, Clint joins them, and so does Tony, although he’s often paying more attention to his tablet device. The last few nights, Bruce and Natasha are there as well, and even if Steve’s the only one whose attention is wholly devoted to the documentary, it’s one of the first things they’ve done as a team that hasn’t involved an alien attack or been engineered by the PR department.
“This director,” Tony says to Steve when the last disc has finished, or at least Steve assumes Tony’s talking to him, since he’s still poking at something on his tablet screen. “Ken Burns, he’s got another big documentary all about jazz, you might like it, or a lot of it might be old news to you, actually, but he’s also got one on the Civil War, which is definitely old news to you, and me, and pretty much everyone but Thor, but—”
“Old news is fine,” Steve says loudly, cutting Tony off. “Thanks, Tony. You can have JARVIS download it, we can watch that jazz documentary next week.”
“We,” Tony repeats, as Clint starts to laugh. “I mean, I guess ‘we,’ I didn’t mean ‘we,’ I meant you—”
“It’s orders from SHIELD,” Steve says, straight-faced. “Agent Hill wants you all to assist me in my cultural assimilation.”
Because no one ever expects Captain America to lie, no one ever guesses when he might be stretching the truth a little.