When I was young, say from about the 4th through the 6th grade, my solitary goal in life was to be a baseball coach in the professional leagues. I had already picked out where I would go to college - Pepperdine University - because I had heard that they had a good coaching program. My father coached baseball when I was young - Little League, Babe Ruth League - my brother played and my mother was an obsessed fan. One could say that I had little choice but to embrace the sport. I practically grew up on a baseball field - going to practices, home games, and even the ocassional away game and championship game - often in different states. My father was a good coach and he almost always had good teams. I laughed last summer when my mom asked me to take a bunch of stuff back to Charleston with me - random projects from my childhood that she had kept over the years and didn't want to throw away - but that she no longer wanted taking up storage space. One such project was a 5th grade poster demonstration that I remember giving on baseball. When I gave the demonstration, I also remember showing the class how to hold the ball for various types of pitches: knuckle balls, curve balls, sliders. Although I hit 7th grade and became obsessed with a million other things - art and science and tennis and boys and plants and friends and Al Pacino and guitar - I was still a secret baseball fan. My first "real" job was when I was 16, and I was paid $5 an hour by Charlottesville's Department of Parks and Recreation to be the official scorekeeper for the fastpitch softball league. I worked from 5 pm until 11 pm five nights a week - and I sat right behind the catcher in the stands and kept the official scorebook. I kept tracks of hits and strikes and balls and outs and runs batted in and foul balls - at regular intervals I had to compile the results and come up with each teams official statistics. I'd sit through a couple of games every night - loving the moment when it was finally dark and the lights were flooding the field - living on pixie sticks and Dr. Peppers and the ocassional hotdog.
Last Thursday I joined a friend for a Riverdogs game. I hadn't been to one of their games since the stadium first opened and I quickly remembered how there was something sacred about summer and baseball. Now I'm old enough to enjoy the cold beer and I replaced the hotdog with a veggie dog smothered in ketchup (how strange that Whole Foods has a spot at the Joe!) - my friend consumed boiled peanuts (a taste I have never required) - we joined other friends that were there, and I do believe that the two of us were the only ones in our group sort of obsessed with the game. I know, I know - we're not a good team - but for some reason it just didn't matter. The sun set all the same, and the lights came on - and I caught myself traveling back in time, wondering why our shortstop was a weak player (wasn't that a key position?) and trying to catch up with the new rules regarding designated hitters. By the last few innings, I'd say that 75% of the folks had left - but there we were, rooting for hits, hoping for double plays and counting the numbers of strikes and balls, double checking the batting averages (oh, this guy has a 374!) and we were on our feet at the bottom of the 9th when the tying run was heading into home plate and watched in frustration as the umpire called the runner 'out'. It was the third out. Game over.
I know more about baseball than most people realize - it's always a little bit of surprise. I need to remember to tell my father that I went to a baseball game - he would be thrilled. We used to have conversations that went like "Dad, I'm thinking about going to graduate school, what do you think?" and his response would be "You're going back to school again? Sounds fine. Do you want me to get you season tickets to football this year?". You get the picture.