Friday, May 16, 2008

About how baseball could save the world

Thursday night at the baseball fields. Cool again with threatening skies and a brisk breeze. The field lights are on early and bring a cheery if faux brightness to the complex.
At least three games are going on when I get there, so the parking lot is full and you better drive slowly, because kids are popping out between cars everywhere. Grownups too. They're carrying bat-bags and lawn chairs and coolers and ball gloves and it's hard to tell who's arriving for the next game and who's leaving the last one.
I pass the concession stand and there's a crowd around it, and the little kids are buying ring pops and now-n-laters and the players are buying hot dogs and pizza and the parents are buying coffee and popcorn.
There's a girls' softball team practicing on a ball-field to my left and a dad is working with the pitcher who's maybe 13, and she takes the ball from him and whips it around so fast it looks like her arm has been wound and released by a rubber band. She smiles at the smack the ball makes in the catcher's glove and high-fives the coach/dad (hers, maybe?) and gets ready to throw it again.
I luck out, snagging a parking space right by the field I'm headed for, which means I won't have to lug my own lawn chair, cooler, blanket, purse and umbrella all the way from the outfield parking lot to the bleacher area.
In front of me, on the other side of the visitors' dugout are the batting cages, and it's a kaleidescope of color -- the green team is there, and the yellow team, and the burgundy team (ours). And some kids are taking pitches from coach/dads in the cages, and others are waiting, and others are throwing balls back and forth, and still others are just hanging.
The game on the field is finishing up, so there's a full contingent of parents and grandparents and siblings of all sizes, from babies to teenagers, watching. Well, the grownups are watching, and most of the teenagers, but all the little kids are in their own world: climbing on the flagpole stone, running around the utility shed, throwing stones ("Megan! Don't throw stones!"), and eating snacks from coolers and concession stand.
I climb out of the car and unload, and cast a weather eye to the west, determining that while I don't need my umbrella immediately, I might in an hour. And I haul my stuff near the action, waiting for the last out of the game so I can plant my chair in a good spot.
Around me the conversation swirls like words caught in the wind at Wrigley Field. From the dugout come the coaches' staccato instructions ("Matthew! Back up! This is their big hitter!" "Tom! Don't swing at that pitch!") and the more lugubrious comments of those (10-year-olds) on the bench ("Euuuch! Mitchell just farted!" "This guy struck out the last time." "Did you guys have recess today?")
From the stands, the parents shout encouragement ("You'll get 'em next time, Chris!" "Yea! That's the way!"), while maintaining non-stop chit-chat among themselves ("And then we decided to go to the mall, because I was not going to shop outside in the rain." "Yea, the lawnmower quit running, so I took it to that place you told me about last week.") And the teens have their cell phones to talk to, or text on, and make the occasional comment: "Mom, are we stopping at Quiznos after? Can we just get takeout?"
Around the world, it's been a tough week. I've seen too many news stories, and had too many conversations about Myanmar, aka Burma, and the China earthquake, and how high can gasoline go in one week? And there's not much I can do about these problems except write a check to Doctors Without Borders, or ponder carpooling to work next week.
But standing there listening to and watching this little-world-within-a-world, I think back to 2001, and how in the days after 9/11, it was baseball that made life seem a little more normal and sane.
And maybe that's what this little league is doing here, tonight, under these gray skies and bright lights. Dads coaching sons and daughters, moms bringing the snacks and the support, kids learning a game that in turn teaches them lessons they will need as grownups, about teamwork and winning and losing. Other kids just playing and having fun.
The game ends, and watching the boys shake hands after, it's hard to tell the team who had the most runs from the team who had the least. As soon as the two lines snake past each other, boys high-fiving each other, coaches shaking hands, the lines break, the boys run away, and every one gives a "whoop!" and heads to the dugout to grab their stuff and look for their moms and beg for food. Because they are all starving and need food now.
Two new teams take the field and throw their stuff in the dugouts, and the scoreboard is set back to zero-zero, first inning. The field is groomed a little as the young umps take a break. The teams warm up. The coaches start their encouraging chatter. New spectators take over the bleachers.
I set up camp for the evening. When I go home, I'll have to face what the world throws at us once again, earthquake or cyclone, tornado or war. But for a moment, I'll listen to the boys' silly talk and the crack of the ball, keep an eye open for rain, and have some popcorn. Such small things.

How about you? What's your stadium of sanity?

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