by Jim Harris
It seems like football season
starts earlier every year. For those of us who are NOT ready for
some football, or anything other than the baseball playoffs, I
submit the following paean to our under appreciated national pastime.
In the beginning, God created
the four seasons - baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
And the greatest of these was baseball, and God saw that it was
good and smiled on all the teams, but mostly on the Yankees, which
was kind of annoying, but hey, what are you gonna do.
Anyway, everything was idyllic
for many generations until the professional players and the owners
began to worship the false gods of money and fame. The children
of men then turned away from the One True Sport and began to skateboard,
snowboard and engage in all manner of ostentatious gyration such
as "the atomic helicopter" or "the triple-reverse
dingle-dongle". A sadness of spirit fell over the land. Among
the ancient ones who still believed in team sports, the new idol
became football, which consisted of large men falling down a lot.
Let it be said; the ass can kick and run, the deer can jump high
and butt hard, but only man can throw a stone that curves, or
stand in the way of one, armed only with a stick.
Baseball is the perfect sport.
It has one-on-one competition and teamwork, strategy and spontaneity,
power and finesse. Plus, it is a game that can be played by people
of all sizes, genders and ages. Instead of turning our backs on
it, we should be spreading it around the world. Like the crusades.
We should go into poor defenseless countries and physically force
them to play baseball. Actually, it's possible that we're doing
that already. I'll have to check on that.
Although music has always been
my first love and the skill that I work on the most, I have also
always loved baseball, and in my teens, I decided to try out for
the Cardinal Dougherty High School team.
They lined up all of us catcher
applicants along a fence and had the pitchers throw us fast balls.
Out of 20 or so pitches thrown to me, I caught . . let's see
. . . none. Even when the ball went right into the pocket of my
glove, it immediately popped out again before my reflexes could
close the glove. I had never seen a ball move so fast or felt
such intense pain in my hand. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.
After a while I was just jumping out of the way and letting the
ball bounce off the fence. To his credit, the coach did not berate
me as coaches were wont to do in those days, he just said, "Thanks.
In spite of this, as crazy as
it sounds, when they posted the list in the gym, I still checked
to see if I had made the team. In my state of delusion, I thought
the coach might look beyond my complete lack of ability, see my
true love of the game, and take me under his wing and turn me
into a great ballplayer. Nice fantasy. It didn't happen.
Undaunted (well, slightly daunted,)
I signed up for intramural softball ("baseball lite"),
and to my surprise, my teammates elected me captain. I soon found
out that captains had to volunteer time umpiring the games of
other intramural teams. Now, I'm a guy who can spend an hour deciding
which shoe to put on first in the morning, so not surprisingly,
my career as a quick-thinking, decisive umpire was brief and stormy.
On one play at the plate. I called
"OUT!," and the entire batting team was suddenly in
my face, yelling, so I listened to the voice of reason and changed
my call to "safe." This brought even greater wrath down
upon my head. The rest is all a blur, I think I may have flip-flopped
a few more times before being driven from the field, but that
was definitely my last experience with any sort of organized ball.
I was disappointed. I had professed my undying love for the game
and allowed myself to become vulnerable, but baseball did not
love me back.
Then at the age of thirty three,
seriously down on my luck but energized by the Phillies recent
world championship, I decided to contact some old friends with
whom I had lost touch over the years and try to start a weekly
pickup softball game. For the next twelve years, on any Sunday
when the temperature topped sixty, we had a quorum. It was the
most unconventional, unathletic bunch of vagabonds ever assembled,
but it was magical to play with people who were there simply for
the sheer joy of it all. God smiled on our little tribe and
finally, baseball loved me back.
All you modern day dudes and
hot-doggers can scoff at baseball if you like, but for me, the
national anthem will always end with the words, "Play ball."