Why Children like to Play Baseball
You’re so young that you don’t even know your own age. Everyone is having a really great time playing something, and you wanna play too. Someone leans over you from behind and helps you hold the bat, it’s your dad. Unaware of any danger, you watch the pitcher as the ball leaves their hand (because your dad is standing behind you and told you that’s what you do). Your arms aren’t your own, and they swing at the pitch, making a clanking contact that sorta stings your little hands.
“Run!” Everyone yells and screams. Looking at everyone as you start running, not sure to where, you see they are smiling so it must be okay, all this yelling.
“Run!” They scream on. There is a small crowd of folks you know standing down there by that bag where Johnny is holding out that funny looking glove. They want you to run to it. . .
“Tag it!” They all yell.
You bend over and touch it, with your hand, because you already know how to play tag. Then somebody shows you that it’s perfectly alright to just use your foot since it is already on the ground, same as the bag.
You’re off to the races! They cheer you around the bases and finally, to that magical place they call home, even though it looks nothing like your house. You’re hooked now. Every time you play this silly game, you become more and more a part of it.
You’re six and your dad is signing you up for a little league team. They have hats and tee shirts and everything! The old glove your cousin gave you before he went off to the Army works just fine and you’ve been practicing a little, you can even catch the ball without closing your eyes, as long as no one throws it really hard.
They tell you to stand out in right field, which is great. Like the song said: That’s where the dandelions grow. . . There’s butterflies out there too, but, you’re after a different sort of fly now; you’re playing ball, son!
Oh, boy. . . Your turn to pitch. We’ve gone through everyone else on the team and so far every one is getting clobbered by those stinking Red Devils in their red tee shirts. Your first couple of practice pitches go over the back stop. One hits the announcer guy, Bobby Gilreath’s Daddy, somebody said, in the head when he was looking the other way, taking a drink of something. Oops. The next one is a little better, only a foot or two above the umpire’s head. The ump looks a little concerned, but he’s hanging in there, ducking down behind that big blue pillow thing they use.
You’re nine and you’re at try-outs. It’s a little more serious now. Some of these guys can really play. Hal Jordan over there can really dig up grounders; he’s a natural short stop. But, you’ve really been working hard at it too. Your dad’s been hitting pop flies every night till the sky’s too dark to make them out. You can chase them down with the best of them. You can snag scalding grounders that get past the infield and you don’t really car any longer if the butterflies are landing or not.
First game of the year; your first at bat. Coach has told you, time and again, not to swing at a pitch that is too high. You can’t help it, you like the high ones! Here it comes, you swing like you’re gonna chop some wood, nearly over head and somehow, your bat meets up with Mr. Spaulding! Shocked, you’re still standing there watching it fly out, out, way, way out there. . .
“Run!” Everyone on the bench is yelling.
“Run!” Your parents are screaming from the bleachers back behind you. It occurs to you again that you are in a baseball game and that ball that is sailing off is one that you have hit. A grin is plastered to your face and you turn almost as red as your helmet as you round the bases and get mobbed at the plate by your team. Coach makes you sit beside him for a minute until Charlie either strikes out or walks, which is all he ever does.
“You swung at a high one again . . .”
You nod, “Yes, sir.”
“Well . . . at least you kept your eye on it.”
That summer, you go see the Braves play, because you live near enough to Atlanta to drive there and go in that huge stadium and watch a team of real-life professional ball players. You wear your uniform because it’s Little League Night and you and the guys get there early so you can crowd down around the edge of the field in order to get an autograph or two.
“Hey, Hank!” You yell to your favorite player of all.
Hank has no idea who you are, but he walks over grinning, none-the-less and signs balls, gloves and hats for all your team. You watch him all through the game. He strikes out the first three at bats, then, when the game is on the line, he smashes a screamer that hits someplace way, way up there in the upper deck.
As you watch him run the bases, you realize that he is playing the same game you play! He’s a grown man, and yet he gets to play ball all the time!
If you didn’t love playing by then, you do now.
You will love it all your life; you will cheer and moan and belly-ache with your favorite team year in and year out. And, one day when you have a little kid wandering around while the older cousins are playing a pick-up game and no body is paying any particular attention to him or her, you’ll lean over their shoulders at the plate and help them hold that bat and when everyone yells “Swing!” it will be your hands helping yet another generation of kids learn to love a the best game of all.