We Came for Baseball

John - Alexandria, Virginia
Entered on June 29, 2005
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: sports
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As someone must’ve written somewhere once, everything you need to know about life you can learn on a baseball field.

When I was a kid, there was no tee ball, no coach-pitch leagues. Teams for the organized baseball in my town were selected on merit, so only the best young athletes had uniforms, coaches, umpires, bleachers, backstops, outfield fences, new balls, catcher’s equipment, and real bases.

Most of my friends and I weren’t good enough to even try out for those teams, but that didn’t stop us from playing baseball almost every daylight hour when it wasn’t raining.

We’d play with three people on a team, or four, or five. We’d play in the grassy field that the church used for Sunday parking. Or we’d play in the street. We’d use a piece of cardboard for home plate. The bases might be trees, or trash cans, or chalk marks on the asphalt. We’d play until it was too dark to see, or until our mothers called us home for dinner.

The “we” is important. My first lesson was that to have a game you needed other people. That meant that you had to be social enough to be part of a group – and decent enough to win big with as little trash talk as possible, or to lose big without taking your ball and going home.

Like many kids in the neighborhood, I couldn’t afford a baseball glove. Usually, though, at least half the people in a game would have one, and often we’d make up teams so the players in the field would have enough gloves to go around. Everyone would share, even the guy with the new Brooks Robinson model he’d just gotten for his birthday. Another lesson: Sometimes you can get what you want by giving what you’ve got.

Once the game started there needed to be some kind of framework for the play. That was my next lesson: There had to be some rules. We didn’t know most of the real rules of baseball. We knew that if you swung at a ball and missed it, it was a strike. If you did that three times, you were out.

The rest of the rules we improvised, based on how many people were on a team and where we were playing. If we only had one outfielder, hits to the opposite field might be a foul ball. Maybe, to even out the sides, players would take turns catching for both teams. We’d discuss the rules before each game and make sure everyone concurred. That was the next lesson: It’s important to negotiate and agree.

Frequently, we’d negotiate again over the interpretation of a rule – was the runner really out? Eventually, we’d reach agreement and continue to play. After all, that’s what we were there for. We didn’t come for disagreements. We came for baseball.

Maybe I’m still a kid at heart, but I believe life can be that simple too.