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The Game of Life MAG
Angrily, the manager in the movie “Bull Durham” asserts, “This is a simple game. You throw the ball! You hit the ball! You catch the ball!”
I wish baseball was that simple, but many of its nuances go unnoticed. I see baseball as a complex and complicated sport on many levels, much like life. In fact, I find that elements and lessons in life, like foresight, instinctual and repetitious response, success and failure, communication, and trust, transcend and intermingle with the fundamentals of baseball - a parallel to life in many ways.
One day, following an amiable disagreement with my friend over which Major League team is the best, I said with little thought, “Baseball seems to resemble - mimic - life sometimes.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “You can get lucky, but it all comes down to whether you can or can’t catch a fly ball, hit a curveball, whatever. That way you can affect the whole team and what happens in a game.”
Then, our conversation paused for a moment before heading off on a tangent, but this thought was still in my mind a few days later when I spoke with another friend.
“What is it about baseball that appeals to you, Joey?” I asked.
“Baseball has human error in it,” he responded after a moment. “Players make mistakes. Umpires are bound to make a wrong call and there’s no instant replay. You can’t go back and change a call.”
“Yeah, true. You can’t go back and change what happened ... whether it was right or wrong.”
As I prepare physically and mentally for a game of no particular importance, I reflect on life and on baseball. I had made the trek from the car to the ballfield countless times, bat bag and other equipments weighing me down. Cleats click on the pavement, transitioning to a nearly inaudible thud with each step on the grass, its sweet smell overwhelming my nostrils with every breath.
A cool, crisp breeze kicks up a cloud of dust. Pristine chalk lines reach out from home plate to the foreboding outfield wall. Stopping, I reminisce. My blood, sweat and tears have saturated these grounds, from age five to my current 16. A feeling of existence, like a second life, full of lessons, growth, and memory reside on and within this simple patch of grass and dirt.
But it’s game time. Anxiety melts away as I take my position at second base. I plan between every pitch, going over every possibility: If the ball’s hit here ... there ... then I move ... throw ... Once the ball’s in play, it’s too late to think. I have only seconds to react, yet time seems to stretch into a state of slow motion. It comes down to that practiced, repeated, instinctual motion of response, field and throw the ball. Then I realize life comes, in spite of my plan, and I must act and react in the moment.
As the inning ends, new challenges await me.
Bat firmly in hand, I stand in the batter’s box by home plate as I dig and grind my back foot into the dust, scrutinizing each pitch - high or low, inside or out, fastball or curve. Looking for the pitch to hit, I wait and swing, knowing both success and failure.
I know my chances. It seems almost odd that batting .300 (an average of three hits for every ten at-bats) is a desired statistic, which means the other seven at-bats conclude with one more out made and my space reclaimed on the dugout bench. Yet with each at-bat there’s another opportunity to beat the odds, the nine defensemen, to watch that white, laced sphere soar through the sky or skip across the ground. With each success or failure, there’s another at-bat, today or the next game, to do better or worse, and all I can do is embrace that with hope and desire.
By now the lights above the field shine instead of the absent sun, and the game still continues. A new batter steps up, and another pitch barrels in. A deep fly ball. I yell to the outfielders, “Back! Back!”
They sprint deeper, calling and yelling with urgency and assertiveness, “Mine! It’s mine! I got it!”
One ultimately wins the contest of position and vocal assertion, and the ball lands securely in his glove, then relayed into the cut-off next to me, and back to the pitcher. Maybe he gets a nod or “Nice catch,” but an understood or verbal communication seems to be in every move, every play, even between pitches.
I receive signs when I bat or run bases as hand gestures, vocal aid and direction during plays, a nod of acknowledgement for a job well done. Without this vital communication, teamwork just wouldn’t be possible and the game wouldn’t work. I’m not able to read minds. Although there is trust that each person will make their play, catch, hit, and throw the ball, I need to talk and communicate; collisions, missed plays, and errors are all born from silence and misunderstanding. So this game mumbles on.
Following the final “out,” bat bags are repacked in preparation for another day. I stare, transfixed, at an empty field once again, no longer manicured to perfection. The lines are blurred, the grass is no longer patterned. The sounds, lessons, and images remain in my mind long after the lights turn off, leaving this haven to glow in the iridescent glow of the moon. This sport - this place - is more to me than a few simple swings of the bat, throws across the diamond, or routine grounders. It seems to have a life all its own.