This is a short story I wrote because even after all of my years in baseball, playing it, watching it, writing about it, coaching it, dreaming about it, and teaching it, I was genuinely inspired. The source of my inspiration doesn’t know about this story, and neither does anyone else, so I’m hoping everyone enjoys it.
I have a tendency to romanticize things here and there I suppose. And yes, I know that reactions and intensity sometimes overtake us when we face adversity and failure, and we show a side of us that might not be so pretty, perhaps because it exposes others directly to our hearts. The truth I see though is the thousands of times that we bounce back almost immediately, pulling ourselves to our feet, to love and compete again, for the love of the game. So, romanticized, or not, there is not much that’s more beautiful to me than the wide-eyed boy and the game. Inspired by #8 and the #9.
If you look really close and let your mind travel along memory’s checkpoints, the past reverses, flashing head-on towards the present and the visual collides with the picture in front of you. It’s the wide-eyed boy, full of wonderment, completely engulfed in joy, participating in a boys game, now in a grown man’s body. The names have changed, the neighborhood kids are gone, the dimensions have expanded, the style, the look now seem to matter, and the canvas on which this picture unfolds is viewed by many. Beneath it all though, is the boy. The boy who still cannot soak up enough of the game or the atmosphere found inside the lines separating the player from the spectator.
The sky is perfect blue. The lines, bases, home plate, pitching rubber and baseballs are bright white. The grass cut short, and symmetrically shaped, is green and beckons all to sample its run at perfection. The Stars and Stripes wave gently; perfectly against the blue backdrop. There’s no actual stage, but still it’s set, for the boys of summer.
Enter, the man, in body and mind he’s a man now. But in pure joy, and jittery excitement, he is, and always will be, a boy. Especially in this setting. There’s something that’s perfect about all of it. It all adds up. The pieces all fit. And, it’s as if all things have come together in this place at this time as they were meant to be.
The man may appear this way, or that way, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’d rather be in no other setting, he’s home right here, right now. And when this moment passes, if one were to ask, he’d most definitely fondly remember hours spent on an old field, less kept, working on his skills many years before. He’d probably agree to go to that former place now, and continue to work on his game.
Herein lies the beauty, not just the boy in the picture, but also, the picture itself. This is where baseball has that effect, linking all that was right, pure, and innocent with the golden years; linking directly to right now. A kids game being played by a big kid like all of his heroes did decades before. Over the years sand lots gave way to school fields or town fields, the quality of which were far less relevant than the time and effort spent in honing skills. Generations passed and kids are kept closer at hand, the outdoors simply becoming a place through which we must pass. But not in baseball. Baseball encompasses the outdoors, the fresh air, and the things that come with it. As kids in passing generations are outside less, enclosed in an imaginary box of constant pacification, baseball is outside and is just as wide open and grand as it was when kids took to the places they played a hundred years ago.
And so it is. The lines are the same. Baseballs sail by, spinning, bending, dropping, carrying, curving, all in the open spaces that transcend time. Just like they always have. The crack of the baseball against wood still tells the story of direction, quality of contact, and the speed in which the wooden tool was used. As it has been from era to era. Look closer to see that gaps are a mirage, closing quickly, the pawns shifting and moving in premeditated harmony. Distances appearing either closer or even farther depending on how these boys of summer manipulate the tools of the trade.
Then my wandering gaze catches the source of the encouragement loudly aimed at a teammate taking his turn at hitting a round ball with a round bat, squarely. It’s that same wide-eyed boy pulling for his fellow mate, his tone and intensity leave no clue as to his recent level of success or failure. For, with him, it’s not about him for more than any second or two at a time, but about the game. It’s about the game. It’s about the joy of competing in the same spaces between the lines as any player in history ever did. A smile is never far from his lips because it’s not work when you’re engulfed fully in your passion. A gleam in his eyes, like he’s getting away with something that must be wrong because it’s too much fun. It couldn’t be more right, this game, this symmetry, and this wild-eyed boy.