Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Baby!

I admit a fondness for listening to baseball on the radio. There's something soothing in that. Reminds me of childhood journeys riding in our Country Squire wagon with my dad at the wheel listening to the Tigers. Or better yet, those isolated evenings when my bedtime came before a game wrapped up and I resorted to sneaking my brother Steven's transistor radio into bed to listen to the crackle of a few innings before I drifted off to sleep.

In my 20s I discovered the incredible combination of baseball, ice cold beer, and a sun-filled afternoon at Wrigley Field. I was astonished that so many wonderful things could be combined in one place. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still hear Harry Caray's singsong voice meander through "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." 

I'll never forget the sensation of butterflies cavorting in my stomach as I stepped out onto that hallowed ball field on Opening Day 2008. I got to high five the team as they cruised past! I stood at attention during the National Anthem (I might have snuck a peak at Mark Grace's backside, but good grief, who wouldn't have?!) right along with the team. And, I got to chat with a living baseball legend, Ernie Banks (aka Mr. Cub) who signed a dugout baseball for me, noting on it, "Keep Smilin' Maureen!" That was a baseball dream day come true (of course I don't have photos because I was there with a vendor and never thought all this magic would take place)!

Now, I've got my own little slugger stepping up to the plate and lasering in on every motion the pitcher (especially when that pitcher is his daddy!) makes, waiting for that moment of pure joy when all breathing stops and you can hear "CRACK!" for miles. Connor made the transition from tee ball to coach pitch this summer and you'd think he was playing for the Cubs and had just won the World Series to hear him talk about playing "real baseball!"

Midsummer we were fortunate enough to share in the ultimate backyard baseball experience with our neighbors, John and Kara Doyle. Together with John's brother, Dave, and his wife Michele, they hosted a Wiffleball Tournament on their own field of dreams. Kids between the ages of 8-11 came from all over the west side of Grand Rapids to send wiffleballs sailing over the home run fence that had been painstakingly constructed to exact specifications. While Connor didn't meet the age requirements for the tournament, he was asked to join a neighborhood team as their bat boy.

At the end of a long day, Connor's team emerged winners. There were trophies and tee shirts and lots of high fives and back slaps. These boys had just earned the biggest honor in the neighborhood and it came without $100 shoes or fancy digital games. Their credential was earned in the backyard with a bat and ball and a lot of tenacity.

I promise you, 20 years from now, my son (and the five wonderful young men from our neighborhood who invited him to share their glory) will recount this experience with pride. He'll probably still posses the tee shirt in a back corner of his dresser. And, the swagger he earned on that ball field will carry him through countless curve balls thrown by life.

Tune in your radio, dust off your sneakers, whatever it takes. Just get out there and play ball, baby!