Baseball season is finally upon us. Move aside, indoor sports. It is time to celebrate America’s pastime for the next seven months.
It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that I was staying up late watching the Cubs win Game seven of the World Series and completely ignoring an exam I had the next morning. I don’t remember what class the exam was for, but I remember the game. That’s usually how those kinds of things work out.
As great as baseball continues to be, I used to think – and still do, to a degree – that we lost sight of what baseball really is: a game. It’s a kid’s game, really. But maybe that’s also why it feels like so much more than just a game to its fans later in life. It becomes a souvenir of sorts from their childhood.
Baseball is not changing your underwear because you’re on a seven-game hitting streak. It’s yelling indecipherable chants of encouragement from the dugout when your teammate is at bat. Sometimes it’s being able to call yourself an athlete and still be fat enough to not get questioned when zooming around Wal-Mart in one of those motorized carts.
It’s going broke and building a full-size diamond in your cornfield just to play catch with the ghost of your father. And it’s definitely NOT about crying, no matter how much “Field of Dreams” may tempt you.
Above all other interpretations of the game, the Fourth of July scene from “The Sandlot” perfectly depicts what baseball, at its core, is meant to be. It’s that part in the movie when the kids play their only night game of the season under the light of the fireworks.
It sounds super cheesy, but they played because they loved baseball.
They didn’t play for college scholarships. They didn’t have an adult screaming in their faces because the rookie-division-house-league title was on the line. All the “Sandlot” kids cared about was having enough players to field a team and a ball to play with that day.
That movie took place in the ‘50s. Things are a little different today. From a young age, thousands of kids around the country are brought up specializing in one sport – in this case, baseball – going to private lessons and clinics year-round. But when you’re 12 years old, there are only so many mid-January practices in a gymnasium and ultra-competitive, whack-job coaches you can stand before falling out of love with baseball.
In a way, the competitiveness in youth baseball is robbing kids of what is supposed to be their pastime. A pastime when many years down the road, the smell of a leather glove brings them back to the time their grandfather took them to their first ballgame, or the time their dad first taught them how to play catch. Not a pastime when what mattered was the numbers on the scoreboard or the radar gun.
To me, baseball will always be about the times I shared with my dad. The times he’d practically throw his arm out tossing batting practice to me after work because I wanted to finally hit a home run, or the conversations we had in the car traveling to and from games.
Kids should still be able to take away memories like these. Memories of something much bigger than just a game. Memories they can look back fondly upon long after their playing days are over that root themselves in a lifelong relationship with baseball.