Spring is here, finally. I know, there’s still snow on the ground, and even in the forecast for parts of the country, but across our great nation, spring has sprung. This week marks the return of baseball. I have to admit, I’ve missed a great deal of spring training due to a certain manuscript I’ve been working on, but the manuscript is finished, mostly, and I can almost hear the crystal clear ‘crack’ of a baseball making solid contact with a bat. It’s a spirit lifter for me. Sure, I love the crocus, daffodils and the promise of chocolate eggs, but nothing says spring like a baseball or softball game.
I love a major league game. I love the giant stadium, the impossibly green grass, the crushed granite baselines, razor sharp chalk lines and nine athletic type hunks adjusting the junk, if you know what I mean, but I can be content with much less.
Whether it’s pint-sized softball players in pink knee socks and pink cleats, or future major leaguers swinging a miniature bat at a ball on a tee, it’s still the sport I love. From the wee ones who pause running the bases to ask a patient coach, “Which one is second?”, to the insecure first year player standing in left field with a plastic glove, drawing pictures with the toe of their new cleats in the bald spot where countless others have stood and dreamed of earning one of the coveted infield positions—it’s still the game I love.
I love the kids who play the game with a passion, and the ones who play for the fun of it. I love the cheers from the dugout, the sound of little girl voices heckling the batter. I love that special time, after a long day at work, when with a paper boat of chili-cheese fries in my lap, and soda at my feet, the sun sinks below the horizon and the bright lights illuminate the field dotted with exuberant combatants. I love the concentration on the pitcher’s face a split second before they hurl the ball toward home plate. I love the ‘snap’ a ball makes in the pocket of a leather glove.
I love the sound of metal cleats on concrete. I love the distinctive ‘ping’ of a homerun hit off the sweet spot on an aluminum bat. I love the smell of sour candy mixed with the greasy tang of a mustard covered hot dog. I love the sound of parents yelling encouraging words, the hushed whispers of regret as their child learns the hard lessons of failure, and the exuberant celebrations when the same child learns the taste of success.
I love the excitement of teenagers and young adults who wear their school colors with pride, and give everything they’ve got to bring glory to their team and their school. I love to see the struggle on their faces as they take on the opposition with nothing but the skill they’ve worked hard to perfect. Baseball and its little sister, softball, are team sports, but unlike most other team sports, players must perform as individuals for most of the game. They bat alone, they pitch alone. They run the bases and field the ball alone. It’s a gutsy kid who stands solitary whether in triumph or defeat.
So as the baseball and softball players take the field, I’ll grab a bag of peanuts, a hot dog in a soggy bun and a cold one. Whether my team wins or loses, I’ll have a good time. I’ll sing along with the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, no matter that I couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles on it. I’ll yell at the ump, and cheer on my team, and maybe I’ll even stop by the local park and watch the kids play for a while. After all, it is spring, and nothing says spring to me like Play Ball!