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As baseball’s postseason takes flight – full of perennial pinstripes, Texans, and former Indians – I couldn’t help but feel my annual tinge of excitement for America’s Pastime. I’ve loved sport my entire life and have happily participated in my share – golf, tennis, cricket, ad nauseam – but it was baseball that held my heart, knee high to a grasshopper. When played properly, in front yards and park fields, wiffle ball bats in tow, it’s a game with the ability to unify the masses. We need that in our world.
Some years ago, on a whim, I bought a book called “Rules of the Game” by Kurt Hohenstein. The book’s focus is Little League baseball, a game that, like many youngsters, I participated in; where America’s small town baseball diamonds are full of young dreamers, swatting gnats under the lights of left field, waiting impatiently to take their place in the annals of Major League Baseball. Reading ‘Rules’ was like being transported back in time.
Those memories are the building blocks of who I am, and it’s no different for young kids, today, chasing fly balls and grounders. Without those seemingly trivial parts, we all lose pieces of ourselves.
What they say is true, baseball is a metaphor for life, full of lessons learned on the fly, and it was such a part of my early years that I played it, literally, everywhere and there was always ample competition. My boyhood memories graduate from makeshift ‘stadiums’ with makeshift roaring crowds to the more formal fields of the McCreary County Park and all-star fields across the region. I don’t, oddly enough, remember learning baseball. In ways, it was congenital, as assured as my perennial bouts with bronchitis. I lived, breathed, and slept the sport. It brought accolades, realism, and discipline to my young life: trophies to shelves, championship games and heartbreaking losses, and, as it should, taught lessons, even for the young and youthfully fearless.
Mirroring life itself, there are always ups and down on a baseball diamond and you have to learn to adapt, and bad sportsmanship is never (or should not be) tolerated (and certainly not when your father and uncle are your coaches; my legs still ache from the laps I ran around the field), and, in those days, there was no “everyone gets a trophy.” You dug in or you dug out. Baseball, like life, can change in a minute – one hit, one run, one pitch, one second can change the trajectory. In baseball, like life, you have to learn to roll with it, whatever comes your way. You could be the cleanup batter against a pitcher whizzing strikes, a team playing at your peak and meet a team playing at theirs, and, like in life, you are often at the mercy of others: your teammates, your coaches, your opponents, and your umps, who sometimes showed their imperfections and bad, bad, bad decisions (or so you were utterly convinced). That’s life!
In my day, we won a couple county championships, which felt like the World Series at the time, and we royally underperformed in a few all-star games. Life doesn’t always go as planned. You work hard, deal with demands, shake hands with victors and vanquished, correct bad decisions, never give up, and always give it your best.
I’m glad I learned those lessons, reacting on the fly, from second base.