It’s a child’s game, after all.
One played at its purest by children.
It may have been invented by grown men, for grown men, continually refined and perfected by grown men. At its heart, though, it was a game tailored to bring us back to something carefree, something pulled from days long gone by.
As fathers we naturally want to pass it on.
‘This was a part of my childhood. A part that I loved. And now it’s a part of yours.’
And as sons we naturally want to receive it.
‘This was important to my dad. Now it’ll be important to me.’
I see it now in my son.
He loves baseball.
He loves playing baseball. Maybe more than I ever did.
And that’s the part I love most now – watching him play.
Watching him try. And fail.
Watching him think things through. Work things out. Find a way to maneuver his quickly lengthening arms and legs into something like what he sees in the big leagues.
Something like it, at least.
Watching him whirl the bat around, momentum twisting his trunk until he spins wholly out of the batter’s box.
Hearing the melodic plink as the ball leaps off his bat and watching him scramble for his life to try to beat the ball to first base.
Watching him flail open arms toward a ball, turning his head aside and hoping willfully it’ll somehow land in his glove.
I see things in the game now that I never saw when I was little.
The things I loved then, but didn’t know how to name them, much less describe them.
But, then again, baseball is so many simple things one can’t simply describe.
It’s the kid who’d rather be anywhere else — routinely watching ground balls roll as one would casually watch a passing train.
The kid who celebrates the end of the game and the retreat to the shade with the same fervor and passion as the kid who makes the first really real baseball play – grabbing the pop fly clean out of the air and lifting it skyward with a triumphant leap … forgetting the number of outs as runners circle the bases behind him.
It’s the kid who always strikes out, and then finds his first hit. And the smile that follows.
The kid who can’t help but hit, and then suddenly can’t seem to see the ball at all. And the flash of determination his face bears on the dogged journey back to the dugout.
It’s the parent who can’t help compulsively shouting relatively useless axioms like “keep your eye on the ball” or “pay attention!”; the grandparent who covertly keeps score, the little brothers eternally looking for snack money and the little sisters constantly in search of a friend for the next 90 minutes.
And the coach who calmly, persistently molds an unruly herd of dirt-diggers and dandelion pickers into something more.
Something somewhat better.
It’s thinking and teamwork and strategy and victory and defeat – often all within a matter of moments.
Nine players, four bases, two perfect chalk lines, a thousand variables and a world of possibility contained within.
It’s goofy minor league team names which somehow all have something to do with either rivers or mud or cats or dogs … or thunder.
Armored catcher’s gear, new uniforms and postgame snack.
Barbecues, bubblegum and trophies.
Sandlots, searing bleacher seats and sibling-infested playgrounds.
The smell of leather, evening dust and freshly-cut grass.
It’s something to behold indeed.