June 4, 2011 in Washington Voices

Summer’s beauty found in baseball

 

For many, sports are the center of the universe. I get it. I understand the steady beat of competition and comprehend the subtle moves of armchair players who relive back-in-the-day moments while watching their favorite sport.

Sports are an American pastime that, at times, can turn ugly. That I don’t get. But I do get the camaraderie and vicariously living one’s dreams through the nimble bodies of those on the field.

Baseball is such a sport but it’s been getting a bum rap lately from sports talk show hosts who belittle the game’s nuances and strategies as being boring, slow and passé. The movers and shakers in today’s wide world of sports, they claim, are football and basketball, where scores are made in a heartbeat amid crushed vertebrae and broken bones. Baseball, however, is but a yawn and a seventh inning stretch of boredom.

Yet, there’s something special about baseball and it sounds like these sports experts have determined it’s boring because they don’t get the subtlety of the game.

In baseball, every pitch comes with an entire defensive strategy in place, including the pitch itself. The catcher is key in deciding the pitch that best suits the situation and the situations are endless. The team changes its defensive positions slightly for every pitch and is thoroughly versed on the opposing team’s strengths, weaknesses and the tendencies of its batters.

These baseball strategies came to mind a few weeks ago when my 7-year-old granddaughter brought out her pink bat and matching pink and white glove. I winced a bit recalling her stepdad’s rugged brown cowhide first-base mitt. The times they are a’changin’, I thought and complimented her choice of equipment.

Out to the backyard we went to play two-person softball. It was a baseball field-of-dreams day complete with gangly pitches, haphazard throws and swing-at-anything mentality. “Grammie,” she finally said, “you sure don’t play ball very well.”

“I was copying you,” I retorted. She folded her arms and pursed her lips. 

Yes, I thought, she’s ready to learn the game.

And so, she did. 

 First, I explained the pitch and how to hold the mitt close to her face so no one can see her moving the ball into position for the pitch she’s going to make. She stood on home plate, bat in hand while I demonstrated drawing the mitt up, sinking it down just below the eye and then delivering a near perfect underhand pitch.

“Hey!’ she yelped rubbing her arm.

“You can’t hit the ball with your eyes shut,” I said. She narrowed her glare and tossed me a challenge.

“Throw another one,” she said.

Next, I demonstrated the evil eye pitcher’s stare and how to ignore it when up to bat. “Give me some attitude,” I said. She smirked. Her girl-itude was emerging.

For two hours we practiced the basics in batting, base running and catching.  She perfected the evil eye pitcher’s stare and when she stepped up to the plate again, her newfound girl-itude brought in three home runs. Soon, more people joined in and we had a game going.

To those sports talk show hosts who claim baseball’s boring and has lost its luster, I say maybe that’s exactly why it’s so great. The gold-chained and tattooed-armed athletes can’t compete with the stuff that epitomizes baseball – summer days and warm evenings, peanuts, hot dogs, beer, the crack of the bat, the catch of a pop fly, the green of the field, the agile players in uniform.

There’s something reassuring about baseball, giving the world a new hue and letting me believe that yesterday’s fields of unhurried dreams can still be shared and enjoyed with our kids and grandkids today.

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