I love baseball. I played the game almost every single day of every single summer when I was a kid. When I wasn’t playing baseball I was watching it. Every Saturday I sat transfixed in front of our black and white TV set watching the NBC Game of the Week with Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean. On weeknights I would sit with my ear to our big upright console radio and listen to the games, especially when my beloved New York Yankees played the Chicago White Sox. With paper and pencil in hand I would keep score, taking in every word of every second of the broadcast.
Winters, though filled with some other childhood pursuits, were long and grew longer with each passing day in the anticipation of the coming baseball season.
I understood what baseball legend Rogers Hornsby meant when he said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Did I mention the New York Yankees? I was a fan of the Yankees, the real Yankees. The Yankees of the late 50s and early 60s. The Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. The Yankees of Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek. The Yankees of Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. The Yankees of Elston Howard and Clete Boyer. Man, I loved those Yankees.
My grandfather took me to Chicago’s Comiskey Park on a hot, sunny, Saturday afternoon in 1961 to see the Yankees and White Sox battle it out. Mantle and Maris were in the midst of that amazing home run derby season when Maris would ultimately smack 61 round trippers to break the “unbreakable” record that Babe Ruth had held. Seeing my heroes in person in old Comiskey is a magical memory I will cherish all the way to my grave.
Yes, I love baseball. I love it because it has something most other sports lack. It sets its own pace. There is no clock to rush the game along. It can be short or it can be long. The game determines its own length.
I love baseball because it has grace. In my opinion there is nothing as beautiful and intricate as a ground ball up the middle with the bases loaded and everyone – I mean everyone – moving to their designated spot to take a relay throw or back up a base or home plate. It is ballet on a stage of dirt and grass.
There is elegance in the cat-and-mouse game that gets played between pitchers and hitters, and pitchers and base runners. There is strategy in play on every pitch, to every batter, in every inning.
Mostly, I love baseball because it is still the same game I watched as a kid some 50 years ago. Sure, the parks and the names have changed. Today there is the ever present talk of drugs and trades and contract disputes, but in the end all those things are discussions for the newspapers and locker rooms and the nightly ESPN broadcast.
Between the lines baseball remains the same graceful, elegant game of my youth. Between the lines lies a true “field of dreams” for many young boys today just as it was for me so many years ago. Every dusty playground diamond is Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium and every pick-up game is the seventh game of the World Series.
I love baseball because when it is played as it should be played it is a microcosm of how life should be lived. It is a game of grace, purpose, and passion, and every pitch, every movement and every moment demands and is deserving of our utmost devotion.
Baseball and life go together like the ballpark and a hot dog. There is one huge difference between the two, however. Baseball is played for a season, a few brief but shining months of the year, and a few fleeting hours of the day.
On the other hand, life is something we are given to live each and every day. We wake up each morning and choose our path, our attitude, our purpose for that day. We can waste it or we can delight in it. We can simply endure it or we can live it with grace, purpose and passion.
Life is an everyday pick-up game. In the end, it’s even better than baseball.