Tuesday, March 28, 2006
When my kids were young, I told them there were five days that they needed to celebrate. And that these five days needed priority over everything else: Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday, their birthday, and Opening Day. I felt that in order to become balanced and informed, good natured yet stalwart, easy going with a sense of determination, the last one on the list - Opening Day of the Baseball Season - is the one that should be included into any excuse for a party.
My affections for baseball came, in part, to my proximity to Wrigley Field. Growing up on the north side of Chicago, I was only a few train stops away from The Mother Church of All Baseball. Mind you, proximity to Wrigley is a little like proximity to the ocean: you know it's there but you only go once or twice a year. But eventually you feel that because it's there, you don't want to waste time doing other, less important things with your leisure. So you go. That's how I started. I went because it was there. And that's when the love began.
And whether it's Wrigley or anyplace else, the joy of the watching is nearly automatic the moment you sit down. When the game begins, the life within that joy surrounds you. People watch baseball for the love of the game. The atmosphere surrounding the contest is as much a part of the game as the ball and bat. The seats, the sky, the smells and the people: there is something inescapably good about watching a baseball game. The birthplace for this game happened in New Jersey in a place called Elysian Fields. In Greek mythology, "Elysian" is the name for "paradise." That's about right.
Professional baseball is just one venue. Some of the finest moments I've had watching baseball have been in the bleachers of my children's games, watching my oldest bat from the left, my youngest care less and my girls in between glare at the opposition. I have sat in the stands at a softball game and thought I was in the court of kings.
My older brother Mike spent hours every week with me playing "catch", teaching me how to throw a ball, swing a bat and save my money to buy baseball cards. His attention and kindness gave me a sense of passion about the game. My love for the game began through his love and attention to me, and I'll always be grateful for that.
I never felt that I couldn't play or that it mattered that I was small, slow or was head-shy when a hard baseball was thrown at me. I was able to pick up my rubber, baseball-sized ball, grab my mitt and go out to my backyard. I threw the ball against the garage wall, fielding grounders and sending the throw over to first base. I missed and it didn't matter. Baseball is very forgiving to a little kid in his backyard. The ball is found, the wall doesn't move and the game always calls you back for another throw.
I tried, without any success, to draw my children into the magic I felt within baseball but they didn't get it. For some reason, it was never really absorbed. These children are my dearest loves and they miss what I see as beautiful in this game. That's OK. I know that my love for baseball is within me but even with my own children, that love was never passed. I don't expect them to understand, but no matter. I don't expect everybody who reads these paragraphs to run out and get season tickets either. But, a few of you just might.
It doesn't matter if you have never thrown a ball, owned a mitt or know the infield fly rule. Baseball truly is inviting. It has been compared, and rightly so, to a play or an opera. When you attend a performance of either, you are swept into the atmosphere of the expression. This is what baseball does. The lighting is from the sky, the backstage direction from the dugout, and the actors wear caps and spikes. The ballpark is the theatre of sport.
To begin a contest in any other sport, you hear a bell ring, a whistle blow, or a shot being fired into the air. In baseball, the man behind home plate points to the pitcher and says "Play." It's as if the umpire wants us to know where we are, what we're watching and what we're all supposed to do.
I love baseball. I love being at a game with those I love and that love me. It is as spiritual as a church, as loving as a baby. But true love it is and will be for my lifetime.
The late Jim Murray, the wonderful columnist for the Los Angeles Times wrote, "I have never been unhappy in a ballpark."
I know exactly what he meant.
Ed McShane, a psychotherapist, is the author of A Coach for Your Heart: Loving and Practical Points to Improve Your Life on bookshelves soon. McShane's commentaries will be featured monthly on kpbs.org. You can contact Ed at email@example.com.