OpinionMarch 23, 2003

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The Thing About Baseball

By Michael S. Pelton

The pitcher is looking intently in at the catcher’s mitt, which beckons in the midafternoon sunlight like a large brown house that the ball might retire to after a hard day’s work. The pitcher, a kid of the ripe old age of eleven years, serious in his quest to fell his eighth batter of the day and thus continue to the next inning of this very important little league skirmish, is daydreaming of how Tom Seaver drags his right knee every time he pushes his way toward the plate to deliver yet another strike past a weary, hopelessly outmatched batter. And here’s Lindsey Nelson with the call: Seaver goes into his windup. There are two out here in the bottom of the eighth inning, Mets with a two run lead. Johnny Bench standing at the plate with one ball and two strikes on him and runners at the corners. Seaver sets and delivers, Bench swings and misses, STRIKE THREE! Tom really pitched out of a jam there, and for you fans, just remember Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.

The pitcher stands there on the mound, a sigh of relief on his lips. In his mind he is Seaver, the batter was Bench. It is 1971, and little league is the most important thing in the world.

The man looks down to the floor where his two boys play amidst the ruins of scattered toys, army men, and baseball cards. It is the year 2000 and it was just an hour ago that his oldest son, just eight, pitched two innings in his little league game. Something quite magical happened at the time that caught the man completely by surprise. He had to choke back the sentimental tears that had threatened to come rolling down his face after watching his son huck his very first fastball towards a completely fear-frozen batter in what was to be a very high-scoring little league game. The flood of memories was almost too much, but he handled it and was very, very proud of his son at that moment.

The heroes are different, but the game is the same. Or is it? There are many things about baseball that will stand the test of time. Hitting a baseball traveling at 90 miles per hour may still be the hardest feat in all of sports. Even though the quality of pitching these days makes the rare 90 mph throwers look even better than ever, there are still players eager to get a crack at sending one of those bb’s into orbit. I look at the game now, and I remember it then. Seaver was a god. Bench was incredible. I could list my baseball heroes on a sheet of paper today and still be in awe of their natural ability, the sheer power of what they did and how they made me feel. At the time I liked to think that they played the game because they loved to play, because grown men fantasize about being able to play baseball until they retire to the big stadium in the sky, because I had the same fantasy and loved them because it was our common bond. My greatest disappointment is that my sons won’t feel the same way when they witness the great pitchers of their time pitching for a different team every few years, when they see the great hitters of this era in salary arbitration, or worse yet, refusing to play because they aren’t satisfied with their contracts.

It only saddens me to a point, though. I can still teach my sons how to throw a fastball with or against the seams. I can still teach them how to stand in the batter’s box with their weight on their back leg, crouching so as to get a better look at the ball. I can even teach them to play an honest game where they don’t intentionally hurt anybody, but play hard and respect not only their opponent’s ability, but the ability God gave them as well.

The thing about baseball is this:

It’s a game. A game that can be played by boys. A game that can be played by men. A game that brings boys and men together. It’s a good thing.

When Michael Pelton isn’t dreaming and writing about the greatest game on earth, he enjoys asking some of the trickiest trivia questions ever seen on this site. Forum regulars know him as metsfan1969.

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