Up until a few years ago, my spring would be filled with youth baseball. Little League. Pony League. Going to the park before tryouts and throwing and throwing the ball until both of our arms felt like they would fall off. Getting off early from work and showing up at the field with a bag loaded with bats and catcher’s equipment and a bucketful of scuffed hardballs, most of them gameballs from the year before. For the next two hours it was teaching kids to throw off of the correct foot, how to back up on a fly ball and then come towards it glove-up, and, forgawdsakes, bend your knees for the grounders. Get down on it. Endless grounders, one after another, hit at half-speed with calls to “get two” or “bring it home”. The kid with the cannon arm at shortstop and the kid with no arm in rightfield. The nimble-footed kid at second and the big slow kid at first (hopefully he’s a lefty). And The Immutable Law of Little League: the team manager’s kid? He’s always a pitcher.
We knocked baseball off a couple of years ago when the boys started getting bigger and stronger and the pitches got harder and started to break more. It was also the time when the lovely and talented Casey’s pitches were starting to hurt my hand when I warmed her up. It was time for both of us to call it a career.
I don’t miss the parents at all and I only kind-of miss the kids who start to become interchangable in your mind with the passage of time. What I really miss is the feeling of having accomplished something after every afternoon spent with the kids, watching them throw, then practice their swings, and learn to watch the pitchers back foot for the pickoff move. Primary leads and secondary leads and hitting the cut-off man. Calling for the ball and, most importantly, putting it away with two hands. I miss warm afternoons and what a kids baseball field sounds like at dusk when everyone has been picked up and the bases have been stored and the equipment has been bagged and you can sit for a moment and listen and it doesn’t sound like work or home and you just want to stay awhile and breathe it in.
So, in honor of baseball season, let’s consult The Book of Giamatti. Quiet please:
If you did not watch or play baseball, you could read about it. Newspapers grew with the sport, sports papers came into existence; sports writing flowered as baseball enriched the language and the language developed a vast subcontinent of circumlocutions, euphemisms, and new coinages for baseball. Vivid, opinionated, salty, redolent journalism matched the game. The reader found the boxscore; the boxscore provided the diamond in the mind, and more importantly gave statistics, data, arithmetic permutation, lore masquerading as quantifiable reality, history that the mind could encompass and retain. Baseball as scripture was born and developed. Then, as now, intellectuals could moralize about baseball; writers and poets could rhapsodize and mythologize; journalists could cover a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and a world full of colorful characters, nicknames only matched by mobsters, and communal significance. No one who wanted to be in was left out. As America opened her arms to the foreign born and healed the wounds of war, baseball embraced all classes, conditions, regions.
Bring it home.