Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Just Love Baseball

The end of the month of April draws near. Ah, April! Springtime, Easter time, and--for the baseball fan--the season of dreams. Anything seems possible in April.

The baseball season begins in early April. By this time the baseball fan (especially a young fan) has already followed an elaborate ritual of preparation. Around February, he starts looking for current season baseball cards at store checkouts. When I was a kid in the early 1970s, a small pack of cards plus a stick of gum cost 10 cents! The larger packs were 25 cents! Now they are $1.99 and $2.99 (I guess that corresponds to the overall value increase of everything).

Baseball cards are followed by the start of "Spring Training" in late February and exhibition games in March. Baseball teams go to Florida (or Arizona, increasingly) for spring training. This is all fun in the beginning, but eventually we get itchy for the "regular" season to start. April ushers in the season, and the Major League standings begin appearing once more in the daily newspapers (or these days, on the mlb website). Suddenly, the great dance of baseball begins. 30 teams (when I was a kid there were 24) begin a six month odyssey of daily play, with all its subtlety and nuance, all its strength and speed and gracefulness, all its peculiar instincts and--especially--its battle of wits, practical intelligence, and strategy.

Baseball appears like a leisurely game to an untrained observer, and in a certain sense, it is. That is part of its beauty. Certainly it requires athletic skill and energy if it is to be played well. But even as it engages the senses and the imagination in so many ways, baseball is in a very special way a form of "play" for the mind. For someone who grows up with the game, all of its rules and peculiarities and strategies are learned until they develop into a sort of "practical wisdom" that grasps how the game is played, and finds exercise and enjoyment in its rhythm. The baseball fan understands the significance of so many aspects of the game that seem to an outsider as slow, dull, and boring. The baseball fan appreciates the drama of the game. There is, in fact, a great deal of drama.

And when spring comes, if you are young (as I once was, and as John Paul still is), you break out the gloves and balls and bats that have been sitting in the carport for what seems like forever, and start pitching, catching, and hitting with whoever happens to be around, or--if necessary--by yourself.

"Little League," of course, is an American institution, but for whatever reason I never played as a child, and I haven't (yet) gotten involved in it with any of my children. John Paul has participated in baseball camps and a few summer leagues. We were hoping that Chelsea would have a team this year, but they chose tennis instead. So John Paul is playing tennis (which is fun too), but we're still lobbying for baseball.

I grew up in a city neighborhood, with a playground and baseball field right behind my house. My baseball playing experience as a kid was entirely "pick-up" with neighborhood friends, and we had different versions of the game to accommodate limited groups of kids (there was even a "one on one" version--batter and pitcher) The ball field had a couple of buildings on one side, and we would chalk in strike zones on the walls.

As soon as the snow melted and the mud dried up, I would venture out to the field with ball and glove, and begin pitching against that wall, while taking in the smell of the dusty field and my leather glove. I dreamed of being a great pitcher. April is a time for dreams.

And always, there were games on the radio. Today, the games are all on TV, and although we don't watch every minute of every game, I do find baseball a relaxation for my all to often anxious and restless mind. It is not a distraction. I am convinced that it remains for me a constructive exercise for my mind and, in its own small way, a healing for my soul. Life is impoverished without genuine play.

We are only a few weeks into the season, and the Washington Nationals are in first place. Haha! April is a time for dreams, indeed.