The Death of a Passion
With the warmer days and the approach of spring there is a certain nagging in my DNA to acknowledge that which is a rite of spring; the opening of baseball season. By this I don’t mean professional baseball or even semi-pro or even high school athletics. I’m talking about the snow finally melting and the ground is too muddy and hard for a kid to play foot ball. Kids have to play something and if it’s spring the game is baseball. This game can be played with as few as two people, but it can be better the more players you have, going up to 8 people per team.
As a kid, these games were spontaneous. As a kid we always traveled on our bikes with a mitt strapped to it somewhere. Somewhere hidden in the bushes around our favorite sand lot was we hid balls and bats. We never measured the distance from the pitcher to the plate or the distance between bases. It was all done by eye. We didn’t even have bases. We’d just find some piece of trash and lay it downs where we though a base should be.
One time one of the guys found a porno magazine out on the sand lot. It was immediately torn into four sections and they became the bases. For us it was more of an incentive to get on base. We were kids out on our own. We made our own rules and we played by them. We were having the time of our lives.
I recently drove by a bunch of kids playing on a ball field. They looked like they were having a hell of a time. They were deeply involved in the joy of life and it was clearly visible. One of the reasons I suspect was because their parents were nowhere in sight. These kids were free from the constraints of parental micromanagement. They were free and didn’t have to look over their shoulders for signs of approval or disapproval. It took me back to the days when I lost my joy for baseball.
I was just a kid at whatever age a kid is when they join the township baseball leagues. This is the one that is for kids that are too young to join Little League. We didn’t have sharp uniforms, but just Tee- Shirts with names on them like Cubs, or Pirates, or Tigers.
It wasn’t my parents that made me join, it was peer pressure. In fact my mother tried talking me out of joining telling me that it would make me hate baseball forever. I couldn’t ever see that as a possibility, so I joined. I should have known that something was up on try-out day. Each kid was given the task of throwing a ball, hitting a ball catching a fly ball and shagging a grouder. When they completed all those tasks they were given a tee-shirt of the team they were on. I immediately noticed that the better players all got darker shirts and the worse you played the lighter in color your shirt was. My shirt was orange. Above me there were black, navy, purple, brown, green and red. Below me were the yellow and white shirts. Everyone wearing a color lighter than brown were doomed to mediocrity.
At that point your team was going to lose every game. Sure you might pick a win by mistake or by forfeit, but you were on a losing team. There were even games where both teams lost.
It was like we enlisted in the military. We were all in uniform and we had people shouting at us. While we were in the outfield we could hear the parents yelling at us. We could hear the coach yelling at us. It was a constant stream of insults peppered with words like “lazy” “hustle” and “wake up!” The coach was the worst. He never shut up and by the end of each game we were morally worn down. When we kids were alone and out of ear shot we wished for the coach to have a painful death so we could all piss on his grave.
Each game of the season got more and more oppressive. There was a collective dread as game day got closer. We all felt it; the entire team. Several of us refused to even show up to the last game of the season. There were at least four of us that became life-long baseball haters after that. To this day I still have not watched a baseball game, nor do I ever plan to. My mother was right, it ruined an innocent passion for the national pastime.