Monday, March 31, 2014

On Opening Day, All Things Begin Again

“People will…walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon… where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters….The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers…been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”   --from the film “Field of Dreams”

I write this column on a cold and rainy Monday morning, as only New England can offer on the final day of March.  Piles of dirty ice and snow still dot the front yard after the longest winter in recent memory.  Spring is extra stubborn this year and hasn’t really shown up, not yet.  But that’s ok.  For you see in just a little less than four hours, the first pitch of the 2014 Boston Red baseball season will be thrown. 

Same as it ever was.  Same as it will ever be.  And that is good.

So for the next 182 days, until September 28th, (perhaps even beyond!) I’ll be there with the Sox and they’ll be with me too.  It’s been this way for me for forty seven seasons. I’m not sure exactly where or when I first caught baseball fever, began to mark the passage of time in my life through a kid’s game, played by nine men on a diamond, and not just any team but by the Sox.

Maybe it was one spring night long, long ago: Dad had the game on in the car and I started to ask him about balls and strikes. Or it happened as I played wiffle ball in the backyard with Joey from next door, each of us arguing about which Red Sox star we’d portray, Carl Yastrzemski or Rico Petrocelli.  We’d swing away at pitches until dusk fell and then our Moms would yell out the backdoor that it was time to come in for supper.  There was my first Fenway Park visit, Grandpa marching five of his grandsons into a July afternoon game.  Sitting in the bleachers in the hot sun, peanuts shells crunching underfoot, fans shouting at the players, vendors singing out, “GETCHA HOT DAWGS HEAH!”

Seems so long ago.  Seems just like yesterday too.

That’s the amazing nature of human life.  It all goes by so fast sometimes, at a pace which can be breathtaking, even overwhelming.  Sweet memories—wasn’t that just yesterday?  Has that much time really gone by?  In the midst of this often frenetic life journey, I know I need some truth, some reality, some thing, which does not change. Which is dependable and right and real and that I can count upon to just be there, to return once again.  

That’s why I need baseball, this year and every year.  The Red Sox. Spring in New England.  Warming April days and muggy August nights.  A game on the radio as I drive down darkened roads and highways, the window rolled down, a summer breeze blowing in, Joe and Dave lazily calling out the action.  Mornings turning first to the sports pages to see what happened the night before. 

Baseball is back again.  All is right in the world.

Yes, I know it is just baseball: a game, a diversion, entertainment.  I know it is easy to be cynical these days about modern sports with its overpaid spoiled athletes, steroid use, and overpriced tickets, blah, blah, blah.  I know that for many folks baseball is passé now, no longer the national pastime, too slow, too nuanced, too dull. 

But for this little boy who still lives inside the man, baseball is one of the few things in my life which always beckons me back: season by season and generation to generation.  If we are blessed by God, we can all claim a few such truths: a family who loves us through all the years no matter what, faith in a God who sustains us day by day and, yes, a game, a game which grows up with us and then begins again every year, without fail. 

So dust off the glove.  Retrieve from the shelf in the closet that faded red and blue cap.  Stock up on some mustard for the first hot dog of the year.  The Sox are back.  Spring is here.  Summer can’t be far away.

Listen for it…”Play ball!”

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