In Michigan, no matter what the weather forecast happens to be, most of my students consider the first week of April as the beginning of spring. Traditionally, that is Spring Break, their weeklong reminder that they are in the homestretch of their school year.
But for me, spring begins much earlier, in February, when pitchers and catchers report for spring training. In the middle of another bone-chilling lake-effect snowstorm, spring training signals the coming of all that is good. I believe in Baseball.
I believe Baseball, especially during spring training, is my most important source of optimism. Before the first exhibition game in the Grapefruit League, it is the Georgia-drawl of Ernie Harwell in the earpiece of my transistor radio quoting Song of Solomon: “Lo, the winter is past;/the rains are over and gone. /Flowers appear on the earth;/the season of singing has come.” Every player is batting 1.000, every pitcher’s ERA is zero, and every team has a chance to win the pennant, even if they’d been mathematically eliminated by the All-Star Break last season.
I believe Baseball forces me to slow down my normally hectic pace. A game at the park means I have no idea when I’ll be home; I only know I’ll be there after the final out. There is no clock to manage in Baseball, but there is pleasure to be found in every match-up, whether it’s a quick contest ruled by brilliant pitching or a slugfest that goes into extra innings.
I believe Baseball shows us how diverse individuals can come together for a common goal. The game is not determined by just one player’s effort, but by the collective efforts of the team. Sure, someone may hit a walk-off home run or make a gravity-defying catch, but wins and losses are based on a team working together – every play, every pitch, counts.
I believe the structure of Baseball demonstrates the necessity of respecting basic rules while honoring individuality. While the distance between each base is always 90 feet, no two ballparks are exactly alike. Wrigley has its ivy, Boston its Green Monster, and my beloved Detroit Tigers still play on a field where the flagpole is in fair territory.
I believe in Baseball as an eternal bond between fathers and sons. My first trip to a major league park was a multi-generational experience with my father and grandfathers; the same holds true for my son and daughter. My favorite childhood memories involve playing catch with my dad and brothers in the front yard. He sacrificed the perfectly manicured lawn so his sons and their friends could play whiffle ball every summer night.
I believe baseball cards are just as important to early reading and math skills as any school textbook, and that the smell of roasted peanuts, spilled beer, and cheap cigars in a ballpark is one of the best olfactory combinations in the world.
No matter how popular other sports may become, no matter what the Neilson ratings say, I will continue to “root, root, root for the home team” and believe in Baseball.
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