Someone asked Saturday at the little league field if I was as excited about this “new baseball season” as always. I assured them that I was hoping to “play two” that very day. I explained that when the sun came up in the morning, I saw stitches around it. And I went into my “God invented baseball speech”……
I don’t know how I got into baseball. I think my Father or older brother rolled a ball toward me a lifetime ago. And I rolled it back. The game, since that moment has certainly held a fascination for me. It has been more than just a way to while away some hours. It has brought joy, pain, anguish and laughter. It has been a magnificent friend and occasionally, it has been the epitome of the agony of defeat. It has been more than a “meal ticket” or an “outlet”. If you feel like talking, baseball is alive with jargon, nicknames and “inside dope”. But there is nothing more silent than rounding first base and putting your head down and trying to beat the right fielder’s one-hop throw into second! It is such a team sport and yet, the team can’t will you to run faster than you can run.
It is a game that is universal in an instant and yet, it remains so personal on so many levels.
The major league season kicks off this week. You can scratch your head over how much the players make these days; or how many games ESPN can show in one week; or how Houston will look in the American League. You can renew old rivalries against the Cubs or BoSox or the Yankees. You can magically transport yourself back to the days when the freckles outnumbered all but the possibilities.
Every team has a chance in April.
Everyone is a three hundred hitter coming out of the Easter break.
It didn’t always seem so clear cut for me. My anxieties had anxieties. I wasn’t sure I was in the same league with Wesley Beal, Bo Booth or Billy Bradley. I wasn’t the best player or the worst. Thank goodness Wesley and the others didn’t show up at the field over by Bethel College pondering on aptitude or social standings. We chose up sides and went to playing baseball. You didn’t have to “fit in”, you just grabbed a glove and sauntered out toward shortstop.
The day took care of itself.
I remember a fight breaking out between second and third base over something Yogi had said at school two days earlier. We let is go on until it was holding up the game and then some of the older guys stepped in. We sometimes had grudges that would be held over from season to season. That’s when you knew you were probably taking it serious enough. Roger Williams hit a baseball off of me one day in 1964 that is still going up as I write this.
We had a neat field behind the house for a while. Dad put us in a backstop and everything. Aunt Jessie would come out of her house and help us look for foul balls. Ricky Hale pulled a deep fly that bounced off the wooden insert between the glass panes on our kitchen window. I kid you not! He hit that ball three hundred feet and placed it perfectly between 9 panes of glass! A little bit later that day he lined one into right center that hit between a dozen panes in Mrs. Boaz’s bedroom window. Somehow he managed again to break no glass! To this day it was the single best piece of one day hitting I have ever seen!
Little League gave us coaches, uniforms, organized teams and city championships. We still had to catch and throw it. The game sped up. And not as many fights broke out. I spread my wings to American Legion baseball in Paris, Tennessee. The town was new, the players were named Winchester, Davis, Garnett and Farmer. But the game was astonishingly the same. They put me behind the plate and left me alone. The stories and memories grew.
I showed up in college and found myself beset with the same old fears. I can’t play with these guys! But the game rolled on. A high hard one off the left center field wall is after all, a high hard one off the left center field wall. “Take two and hit to right” is still sound advice in most quarters. We worked some Shakespeare and John Milton in and around road trips to Washington and Lee and Centre College.
I grew up and built baseball lockers in my house. I rolled a ball toward my young sons. They rolled it back and a whole new set of stories evolved.
I was paid at one point to be involved with baseball. I don’t think that added to, or took away, from one thing I understood about the game. I have talked “rolling the top hand” in a baseball swing with the greats and not so greats. I enjoy seeing how a good hitter handles the 3-1 pitch today as much as ever.
So I’m ready for the 2013 Baseball Story to begin. I am not interested in all star games or World Series winners. I don’t care if the Yankees have the best team money can buy.
Baseball is still about feeling good about yourself and where you came from. It’s about pick-up games in the back yard. It’s about Wesley Beal, Billy Bradley and Ricky Hale. I wish we were limbering up in that vacant lot beside Jimmy Childress’ old house this morning.