Throwing Out the First Pitch

I have an odd passion, one that started a few years ago. As I sit here thinking, I honestly believe it started during the three years my son played baseball. I was fortunate enough to be one of his coaches during that time period, and it was an experience that I cherish to this day. It was kind of like reliving my childhood while watching my son play a game I loved—and still love to this day. I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain this as well as I want to, but I’ll give it the old college try.

When I was a kid, the first sport I recall seeing was baseball. My dad and grandfather liked two teams that were truly horrible, for the most part: The Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. I watched a lot of Cubs games with my dad, listening to Steve Stone and Harry Carey call them (Carey in a tone that sounded slightly inebriated). When I was at my grandparents’ house, it was always the Braves on TBS. Those games were usually called by Skip Carey (yes, the son of Harry Carey, and no, he never sounded inebriated), and a host of other announcers. My great grandmother was a Braves fans, as well (a big time Braves fan). I got my dose of baseball almost every day  as a little kid during the summer and fall months.

Then when I was ten, I decided I wanted to play baseball. For the record, I was never really a good hitter. To be completely honest, I was pretty bad at swinging the old bat. But I could field. I could catch fly balls and ground balls and I wasn’t afraid to dive for anything. And I could throw, though sometimes I sidearmed the ball and when that happened the ball would end up anywhere, including over the fence behind first base. On those incidents I looked like Ricky Vaughn from the movie, Major Leagues.

To speed things up, I didn’t have much of a baseball career coming up. As I stated, I wasn’t a very good hitter, but I could field. Baseball just wasn’t in the cards for me. I later went on to play fifteen years of softball, often playing two and three seasons a year. As fun as softball was, it just wasn’t baseball.

I went to a few baseball games when I got into high school and a lot of softball games (at the time the high school softball team was winning state titles on a regular basis). It was my way of staying connected to the game, the sounds and sights and the joy of a game I was just not that great at.

I got older, quit playing softball all together, and for many years I stayed away from all baseball fields.

Then my son decided he wanted to try baseball. I admit, I got really excited. For three years I was an assistant coach on the teams he played for. I not only got to see my son play, I actively participated in his growth (and the growth of the other kids on the teams). When he decided he didn’t want to play baseball anymore I was saddened a little. Though I have been asked to come back and coach on several occasions, I haven’t done so. I wanted to go to the games my children played, no matter the sport they chose. My daughter played a year of softball and basketball and several years of soccer, and a year of cheer as well. My son played baseball, flag football soccer and swim. They were active, and I didn’t want to be the parent who missed his kids events because he was coaching other kids. I never wanted my kids to think someone else’s child/children were more important than they are.

I coached other sports (my daughter’s basketball team, my son’s soccer teams, and one stunning lopsided victory for my daughter’s last soccer team—that is a long story I may get into one day), but none of them made me feel the same as playing or coaching baseball.

I often go back to the field to watch some of the kids I coached. I hope to see some of them play in college and maybe even the big leagues one day. But that is getting way ahead of things.

When I go back to the fields, I can’t help but look around and take everything in. The sounds of the kids in the dugouts, the ping of an aluminum bat on ball, the cheering of friends and families watching the games, the occasional announcer up in the booth; the many stadium chairs lining fences with parents and friends; the smell of hot dogs and nachos; the younger kids throwing tennis balls against the back wall of the concessions, right between the two bathrooms; the sounds of balls hitting gloves and bubblegum popping. There are so many things to take in at a baseball game, but the biggest and most enjoyable are the expressions on those children’s faces as they get a hit, or catch the ball, or strike a batter out, or win a game … or lose one. To me, the unbridled joy and the true heartache of losing are lost as the kids get older and the game loses its innocence.

I think that is what draws me to the little league baseball fields. Innocence. The naivety of the children when they first join a team, the excitement when they learn how to do something, the thrill of victory, and yes, the agony of defeat. In the beginning, it is all innocent.

That brings me to what I hope to do here. This is not about professional baseball. As much as I loved the Cubs and Braves growing up, I’ve never been a big Major League Baseball fan. I’ve always liked the little league and high school levels, as well as college and minor leagues (to a much lesser degree). This is about old little league baseball fields and the way I see them. Some of these fields are still in use, while others probably haven’t seen anyone playing on them in years. To me, there is a beauty to these fields and that beauty isn’t just in what they are, but in what they may have been at one time.

Just so we are on the same page, I will not just talk about baseball fields. There will probably be stories here. Most of the blogs I write will have a story feel to them. There will definitely be images, and maybe a video here and there. When I step onto a baseball field, it is magical for me. My mind goes in all sorts of directions and the writer side of me gets very sentimental. My hope is to touch you in that same magical way as these fields touch me.

I don’t expect everyone to understand my love of these baseball fields. Honestly, I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s just something I enjoy.

If you are reading this, I want to thank you. If you enjoyed this post (and those to come) I would like to ask you to please leave comments and subscribe, as well as like and share this post and blog. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I’m willing to entertain other people’s thoughts.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.