I played my first ballgame of any sort in 24 years this past weekend. It was everything I remembered – a mix of adrenaline, fun and a bit of fear, but mostly fun. It helped that I had a good game (despite not wearing #13 or #23 which were unavailable,) that we had a huge last inning to cap a comeback win and that I’ve got a great bunch of teammates.
My son was begging to come watch, but with a 7:00 p.m. start on a school night and a game-time temperature of 40o with 25 mph winds discretion won out (i.e., my wife said absolutely not and rightfully so.)
One of my teammates did bring his son and the kid was great – no complaining, no getting in the way. He pretty much just watched and soaked the game in.
That same teammate came up in the top of the last inning with runners on and us trailing by one. As his father stepped into the box, in a voice barely above a whisper, the son said, “Come on Dad.” It was awesome and touching, and in that moment, I desperately wished I had brought my kids. Not for the adoration or accolades but because here was a kid’s love of baseball being further cemented by the reason this game has captured our imaginations for so long: on any given day, at any given moment, our hero might do something magical. The essence of our love affair with baseball in plain sight, worn on a kid’s sleeves.
Melodramatic? Maybe. After all, the kid is still in that phase of life where his dad is a superhero to be idolized and worshipped. And the kid is clearly hooked on baseball. Why else would he have been so well behaved throughout it all, especially considering it was a softball game between two teams of middle-aged, tending towards out of shape men reliving their youths on a cold night in April?
But here’s what struck me. For we baseball families, isn’t this why we teach them the game and all its history and then spend countless hours watching major league baseball with them? So that they too will come to love this game. So that they will get chills down their spine when they watch whatever great, unimaginable, unbelievable play unfold in front of them, their version of Nettles in Game 3 or BamTino and “Mr. November” or Jeter being in a place he has no business being to make “The Flip”. So that they will come to believe magic really can happen.
Isn’t this why we race down to the field every time they ask, not as coaches, but as parents, to throw them 100 batting practice pitches and why we throw ball after ball after ball to them until they learn to catch one across their body? So that they might have the chance to experience being the hero themselves, at whatever level they top out at, t-ball or rec league or the pros. So that they come to believe anything really is possible, on or off the field, if they put their minds to it and work their tails off.
Isn’t this why baseball survives despite all the rumors of its imminent demise as a boring and outdated sport? Doesn’t it hold sway over us because it brings us back to our childhoods when a ball and a broom handle were all you needed to pass those glorious summer months off from school imagining ourselves to be our heroes? And isn’t it why we pass down its lore until it becomes part of what binds one generation to the next and the one after it? Isn’t it how my father lives on when my son says, “I’m a catcher just like Grandpa was” though Grandpa died long before my son got a chance to meet him?
“. . . They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. . . .” – Terrance Mann, Field of Dreams
As I’ve thought about the kid, I’ve thought about everything which led to the moment, a journey five years in the making, back to the day of the rec league parade in my son’s first year of t-ball when I found myself standing in the same spot I would be if I were playing first base with a view of home plate I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Too long a time. It led me to decide to coach which led me to want to play again. Then again the journey really started when I was 16 months old and my father put a bat in my hand and then spent all those hours teaching me how to play. And then again didn’t it really start a lifetime before that for my father had to fall in love with the game and all its majesty in the first place?
Next weekend is game two and my kids won’t miss this one. We’re a baseball family.
It’s so much better when you hear James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann . . .