News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Boy meets baseball

Something happens between a boy and baseball — it’s called true love.

I decided to volunteer this spring in the Sisters Little League, and I wound up helping with a team of mostly 11-year-olds. I raised three sons in a baseball-crazy household after growing up in baseball-crazy Brooklyn. I watched a ton of Mets and Yankees games, and I collected a billion baseball cards. Despite a modest career on the diamond, I coached dozens of teams and I even ran my own baseball camp for a decade in Eugene. I am one of those old guys who “forget more baseball than most people ever knew.” I still watch just about every Mets game.

So when the young coach needed a leg up on the overwhelming task that coaching is, I fit the bill like a glove.

Like all 11-year-olds, they tend to be new at things, and baseball takes time to figure out. So the group of kids who turned out for the tryout were, in most respects, baseball challenged. Some were quite good at the basics, having played maybe a year or two already. Some were not too proficient at throwing or catching, having not played enough catch in the yard that was the standard for growing up in the mid-20th century, when kids actually played outside. And a few of the kids were clearly trying baseball for the first time.

But we put them through their paces, made them field a lot of ground balls and throw a lot to each other, often literally a comedy of errors. But the little darlin’s hung in there — missed the ball, tried again, missed again… repeat and repeat.

I need to say at this time that baseball is a very hard game, especially for an 11-year-old. It demands so much hand-eye coordination, so much technical skill and ability, and so much individual grit and determination that it’s no wonder kids meander away from it. But this group of kids hung in there, stuck with it, and as we enter the final weeks of the season, my admiration for their little souls is bursting forth.

There were too many afternoons of frigid weather here in Sisters. Too many evenings of my needing the ibuprofin and a stiff drink. Too many practices of kids trying to do something that was just out of their reach, something harder than they were possibly used to. Here near the end, I can say that my faith in humanity has been strengthened. This group of young boys showed me something and taught me something.

Boys intrinsically know that they need something to become men. And they look to older men to provide it. It is a sacred task. In this case it was baseball, but the process is universal. Come with a need, be shown a way, try to follow. I told the same five kids to “use two hands” about a billion times, and they still manage not to use two hands. I wanted to give up. But they didn’t give up, so I couldn’t either. And this leads to the larger picture.

We do it for love. There is something mystical about a boy who meets baseball — it’s love. They try, they disappoint, they retry… maybe they succeed. They dream. And they dream some more. And what we older men share with them is the same love, the same dream. We love the game, we love everyone who tries to play the game, and we don’t even mind failing most of the time because we do it for the highest possible reason: It gives us the chance to love something pure, and illusive, and impossible. It opens the door to eternity.


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