I knew the game at a young age.
When it’s around you all the time, you soak it in. Just like a language. Baseball was mine, my family’s language. Us kids? We grew up in the dugout. All four of us. Standing right next to our dad, the coach. Just as he did next to his father growing up.
For us, it’s never “just a game.” It goes beyond that. Way beyond.
I chewed bubblegum and scuffed my shoes in the red dirt covering up the wet sunflower seed shells. Always wore a helmet. Dad made me. Mom usually french braided my hair to fit under that helmet when it was my turn as bat girl. I so looked forward to those games where I could indulge in the variety of Bubblicious or Big League Chew. Occasionally I’d have myself a bag of sunflower seeds. I’d chew and suck on them until my mouth was raw of saltiness.
I could barely see over the steps that led up to the field. But I watched, learned. I knew what was going on. I knew the strategies of the sacrifice bunt and anticipated the turn of the double play. I’d get excited about a good at bat, but even moreso a bad one because I’d wait for whoever it was that struck out to walk back towards me with his head down. I knew the second his dirty cleat reached that top step the reaction was coming. The cuss word, the jolt of the helmet back into it’s cubicle. I couldn’t wait to see it happen. It was like they didn’t know or care that a little girl with a cheek full of gum was there watching. Looking up to them. The men, the boys. The well rounded, all-American, good-hearted baseball players. The good guys.
Baseball was a lifestyle. Is a lifestyle for my family. Full of motivation, discipline, commitment. I learned these qualities spending all those years in the dugout. Quietly I’d watch and learn right from wrong. Occasionally dad would look my way and give me a wink or subtle smile. It felt safe there, despite the high-frequency of f-bombs and jockstrap/cup adjustments right before my pre-pubecent eyes. Literally, eye-level.
There’s just something about the sport. At the college level at least, all I know really. Something good at its root. Something that pulls on my heartstrings. A reason to celebrate, a reason for heartbreak.
My son is two years old, and already knows this. My dad’s first gift to him was a leather glove with his name embroidered on it. “Papa’s field” is his favorite place. I can’t drive past it without him pointing and whining to get out. He pushes himself up against the corner of our section’s seats, eyes zeroed in at Papa standing in the dugout. The slightest glimpse from him towards Holden and his arms go up. His face reads “Papa, come get me!” He yearns to run on the field, play catch.
I’m grateful for this, for the sport of baseball and the role it will play in Holden’s life. As it’s done for the few generations before him, I’m hopeful that it instills in him what it’s done for us. It’s just a family thing.