Son, Meet Baseball

Son, meet baseball. My old friend. 

I was thinking back to the favorite sports conversation we had a few days ago, and I thought that spelling out my love for baseball would help you understand more than just telling it.

When I was 8 years old, my grandfather called me into the house where he was watching a game. He sat me down and said, ‘I want you to watch this next hitter. His name is Willie Mays. He’s the greatest player I ever saw. I want you to tell your children that you saw him play.’ That was the beginning of my romance with baseball. 

Baseball is unlike other sports for my generation because baseball is truly generational. My father took me to my first baseball game, just like his father took him. 

I had the pleasure of attending a game with them both, which gave us a commonality, something of a reference that led to bonding unlike anything else. It was a shared experience that we could relate to. 

I played baseball with my friends. The game would take place in an abandoned lot in my old neighborhood where we grew up. It was mostly dirt and weeds. The group of us cleaned out most of the rocks and dirt to make a diamond and a pitching area. It wasn’t a proper mound; it was a spot that we measured off and threw from. The little ballpark we made was at once simple and glorious. 

That’s a large part of my reverence for the game, but some aspects loom even larger. 

On a visceral level, I’ll never forget my initial experiences of attending my first major league game. 

Entering the ballpark with the fans wearing the colors of the team creates an instant feeling that is equal parts of self and comradery. When I walked through the gate, the smell of popcorn and roasted peanuts was overwhelming. Of course, I had to get some. 

But the biggest revelation was walking through the tunnel. It slowly revealed with each step the greenest field of grass I had ever seen. The field was immaculate. The greenest green and the brownest brown. It was a stunningly wondrous sight. 

The players were milling around and warming up. They moved so smoothly. The sound of the ball hitting the leather gloves combined with the playing of the old-time organ added to the spectacle. As I looked around and recognized players I had only seen on baseball cards and television made me feel like I had entered a secret club that I was proud to be a member of.

The game began.

I became the pitcher pitching against the visiting team. I visualized looking at the catcher and getting the sign. My mind tells me to stay within myself and execute the pitch as perfectly as possible. I told myself that if I can hit the catcher’s glove, our plan is going to work out well. 

Then, when our team was up to bat, I became the hitter. I did some research on the visiting pitcher that morning and knew he had to keep the ball low. If he got it up above the waist, he was hittable. I watched him like a hawk. As I watched him release the ball I said to myself that it was going to be low and lay off. 

He was pitching well, but when our number three hitter came up, he went into the windup, and when he released the pitch; it was up! I gasped as I knew it was a hittable pitch! Our hitter knew the same thing and swung. The sound of the bat squaring up to the round ball was something that I won’t forget. It echoed in the ballpark. I looked up and followed the white baseball against the blue sky as it sailed toward the outfield. 

Then I glanced down as the opposing outfielder turned and ran back toward the fence tracking the ball as he went. I looked back up and found the ball mid-flight. There it goes! As the outfielder got near the wall, he was still looking up. His shoulders sagged as he realized he had run out of room! It was gone! 

A home run! 

The sound of the crowd was joyously overwhelming. Grown men raised their arms and yelled and cheered at the top of their lungs. Strangers before that day were giving each other high fives and hugged each other. Seeing our hero rounding the bases and slapping the hand of the third base coach as he trotted by him. Fireworks were going off beyond the centerfield fence. 

As the hitter crossed the plate, one of his teammates congratulated him and more did as he reached the dugout. Everyone had smiles on their faces except the visiting team. It was marvelous! 

Baseball is also full of intrigue. The strategies that the managers use are just as important as the performance of the players. An entire game plan has to be executed so that the team is successful. It’s an intricate balance of statistics and being able to sense how players are mentally and physically. The manager has to take in information from different sources and distill them down to a precise degree. 

If the manager succeeds, no one pays attention. But, if he doesn’t, there is an entire fanbase that will let him know. 

And then there are the umpires, but that’s for another day. 

You’ve told me that baseball is boring and that it takes too long. That may be true. But, if you take some time and study it, the game will teach you a few things. 

The first thing you learn is patience. Baseball is tedious until it’s not. The release when something happens is a rush! 

Baseball also teaches how to accept failure and keep working until your skills lead you to be better. It’s a game of constant adjustment and awareness. 

I don’t know if this letter helps or makes you roll your eyes. I guess I’m a little sentimental. 

Either way, let’s go to a ballgame. 

Dad. 

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