Friday, July 08, 2011

An Old Flame Re-Ignites, Part One

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!"  Tonight's sermon topic is one of the longest loves of my life: baseball.

I've always loved watching a live baseball game. Don't you? The sweet, green grass, the elegant players, the quiet precision of the white ball snapping from glove to glove ... ah, it's wonderful.

To me, baseball has a mystical appeal that our other big national sports lack. The field is a "diamond," but actually everything's round. You start at home, and you end at home. Everything in between is like ballet. Despite all the coaching in the world, no two pitchers work exactly alike. Every batter has his own little ritual and his own way of connecting with the ball. The guys at farthest remove from the action have to pay as close attention as the one behind the plate. It's a strategic, graceful game, not totally without its roughness, but the scoring is supposed to be done without crushing the skull of the opposing player.

This is not a very original observation, but in baseball you are considered a tremendous success if you do things right three out of every ten tries. If I only passed three of every ten students in my classes, I would be fired. But that's just how hard baseball is to get right. It is one freaking tough skill game. I admire anyone who even attempts to do it.

I'm writing this because on Thursday night I went with Mr. J to a minor league ballpark in Lakewood, New Jersey to watch a baseball game. Only when I had paid $8.00 for a seat on the grass behind the foul pole, gotten myself a beer and a bag of peanuts, did I realize that baseball was a love I had lost and need to find again.

If you are coming to this site for insightful Pagan commentary, today is not your day. Tomorrow isn't looking too good either. But if you feel, as I do, that anything that harms none, and pleases most, is great and holy, then All Hail Baseball!

When I was a girl in the 1960s, only boys could participate in Little League. I am intensely grateful for that. Being left-handed, and having less hand-eye coordination than a turtle, I never would have made a Little League team. And if I did, some coach would have yelled at me until I slunk away, hating the game and myself.

In the 1960s, our section of the county had its own team, and all the local boys were on it. My mom loved baseball so much that she would take me to watch the games. This was that time of life when girls have cooties and boys are icky, but I still could tell that my homeboys liked having me as a fan. Most important, my mother was not exactly sane, but there was something about baseball that brought out the best in her. So when I remember her fondly, it's usually when we were watching baseball together.

The team was just called Oak Ridge, from where we lived, and the team colors were purple and white. I can still remember the names of some of the boys on the team. And they were pretty good. They made the playoffs two years in a row and lost in the finals by one (disputed) run.

I'm going to go to bat (tee hee) for the idea that some things are just gender specific. I couldn't be in Little League, but I wasn't bitter or jealous. While they had baseball practice, I went swimming, jumped rope, and ran just for the fun of running. Then I went and watched the boys play ball.

At the end of the summer, the county Little League had a picnic and swimming party for all of the teams. The moms of some of the boys told me they thought I had been such a good and faithful fan that I should come to the picnic. I was so excited! I would actually get to be at a picnic with all the Little League homeboys! And go swimming too!

You know what I discovered at the Little League picnic and swimming party? The boys didn't know how to swim! That's right. They had been so busy doing batting practice that they missed out on crawl stroke. I had the deep end all to myself as they watched, awe-struck, from the shallows.

It got better.

They lined us all up by age and had a sprint. I forget how far we had to sprint, but I don't forget the fact that I beat almost every Little League player in the county. I was probably trying harder, but that didn't matter.

This childhood sporting success is a memory that has stayed with me all my life, and to which I return when I feel insignificant.

They say that playing baseball gives you self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. Not playing it can do the same, if you discover strengths beyond the diamond. With baseball, with Rituals, with anything at all in this world, sometimes it's fine just to watch. One size doesn't fit all. Wow, I say that a lot.


The Traveler said...

What a lovely commentary. I was the tomboy that had to be better than the boys. If they did it I would do it twice as hard and twice as messy, and I still couldn't get into little league, lol. I used to love sitting and watching the games at the high school by my house. Then I would talk about how I would have done it better if they had let me play.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Baseball is such a rich metaphor for so many things.


I was a tomboy too..and I lived and died favorite team the Brooklyn Dodgers made me happy..then the sonsabitches moved from Brooklyn to Las Angles.never gave a hoot or hollar about baseball sense..except when the Rangers are in it.I love this story..

Intense Guy said...

I had lost interest in baseball - I used to follow the Phillies faithfully - but when the salaries skyrocketed and the players became more and more whiney and less "role model" something in me died. Perhaps it was Chris Wheeler's color commentary or play-by-play (his voice makes my skin crawl). Who knows.

But then I discovered the minor leagues!! Reading Phillies!! Free parking, cheap tickets, hilarious promotions and themes and mascots (I think they have at least 8 of them!) and "real" ball players that made errors now and then.

I just wish the ballpark was a little closer!