“Baseball…is a place where memory gathers.” — Donald Hall
Another baseball summer has come to an end. And so goes that magical time of year where we schlep our kiddos to and from practice, block out our evenings and weekends for games, purchase sunflower seeds and Gatorade in bulk, spend all of our money at the sporting good stores and plant ourselves for hours on end upon narrow (and often uncomfortable) bleacher seats. Oh, how I LOVED it! There’s just something special about being at the ballpark. And this summer, America’s favorite pastime took on new significance for me as a typical ballgame outing transcended time and space (cue Twilight Zone music here….)
One of the consequences of living hours away from family is that the chorus of cheers and encouragement for your kid come from yourself and the parents of your kid’s friends. I had become accustomed to hearing these familiar voices during my son’s baseball games, but on this particular weekend when my son stepped up to bat I could hear my Mom say, ‘Here you go, Sean,” followed by my Dad, “Pick a good one.” And just like that, I was transported back in time, to ball fields in my home town. Their voices and their presence that afternoon sent me right back to my childhood. You see, I was a “baseball sister,” nestled in the stands…sucking on sunflower seeds, drinking soda and watching my little brothers at bat. My Dad was on the field as coach and we all waited with bated breath for every pitch. In a flashback moment I could see their uniforms and determined looks. I recalled hot and dry, western Kansas evenings and the sports complex where they played little league. I took a deep breath and present day reality set back in.
All afternoon my head (and my heart) bounced between the baseball game at hand and games past. My mind’s eye could clearly see thrilling victories and agonizing defeats–my brothers’ sweaty faces and red, dirt stained white pants. I remembered Dairy Queen celebrations and post game lamentations at the kitchen table. Then I would see my son, in all his determination strike out a monster of a batter (keep in mind this is little league, but this batter was as tall as the umpire!) In the stands, my folks and I reminisced about Gatorade gum (does that still exist?), pre-game rituals and the power of green m&ms. Every caught ball, grounder and close call produced cheers and jeers intermixed with stories from my own childhood…Do you remember when kids wore stirrups as part of their uniforms, when entire teams ran to the parking lot for coolers loaded with soda and snacks, when games were scheduled as late at 9:30pm, and when wearing rally caps was a concept that NEVER had to be explained? Remember when…?
Between games, my Dad and husband talked about strategy, the ins and outs of coaching your own kid and various pitching techniques before heading back to the diamonds. We reminisced about how much baseball caps have changed (do you recall the mesh back, plastic snap variety?) and laughed about the NO SWIMMING ON GAME DAY rule, which still holds true for the new generation of ball players, at least in my family. We compared games of yesterday with my husband’s baseball experience on the West Coast. Before long we found ourselves in line at the concession stand again…purchasing more sunflower seeds, of course. And my niece helped to carefully pick out green m&ms (we might as well test out the “home run” theory) and discreetly handed them off to my son in the dugout (see candy commercial below for explanation), and finally we settled in for another inning of play. New game, but such familiar territory. I was living my own “Field of Dreams.” Like the well-known baseball flick, I was experiencing a mixture of baseball past and present, family togetherness and a desire to hold on to this special summertime moment.
Three games later we were sun-worn and windblown, but smiling. Sean pitched his very best game of the summer. We cheered as he and his teammates celebrated in the dugout. I took in the moment as the most important men in my life collectively grinned from ear to ear and looked so proud! Okay, it’s just baseball and little league baseball at that, but these are the occasions that become some of our best memories. As in life, another baseball game, another victory, another afternoon together is never promised. For now summer baseball will continue to weave itself in and out of my son’s childhood. We have camps to look forward to, the excitement of new teams and teammates, and the joy of taking in the occassional MLB game whenever we can. There’s nothing like building family memories around the ball diamond and dreaming major league dreams all while celebrating little victories at the local Dairy Queen.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”— Rogers Hornsby