I coach my son's Little League all-star baseball team. And so, along with hundreds of thousands of other parents in America, I do some of the most uplifting and satisfying "work" of summer. There may be better ways to spend the summer, but I do not know any of them.
Yesterday, my son Gabriel played at a baseball complex in neighboring Glenview, Ill. At the top of the last inning, the Glenview coach called a timeout to gather his players on the mound. I was coaching first base and took the time to walk down the line and look around.
The whole place crackled with summer baseball. There was excitement everywhere. The universe opened up in front of me and for an instant swallowed me whole.
Four games were in progress: That's eight teams, eight umps, eight sets of parents all caught up in the play before them. The sun was lost in late-afternoon clouds. The prairie wind was steady from the west. It was neither hot nor cool. It was just right - just right for Little League baseball.
The realization struck me that on baseball diamonds from Maine to Hawaii the same drama was being acted out simultaneously: kids throwing dusty balls toward batters wearing helmets two sizes too big, parents leaning forward with each pitch and letting the umpires know what they missed, fans cheering the pitcher and consoling a batter. There would be some kids warming the bench, clenching their faces to the fence separating them from the game; others would be rolling baseballs on the ground in the dugout. A few might be talking about the 747 that had flown over their house the day before.
The same drama played on each field, in each city, in each time zone. It was my "family of man" moment, a moment of shared humanity, a gift of this day on my field in my time zone, like parallel dimensions fitting on top of each other, then floating away ... as the Glenview pitcher delivered ball four and the go-ahead run was walked in.
At the Single-A Cane County Cougars game this weekend, I watched 18- and 19-year-old ballplayers who get paid meal money to live a dream that might put them up in The Show.
During a rain delay, I stood in a pavilion trying to stay dry with the other 8,000 folks. We watched film clips of famous scenes from baseball movies - minus the sound. We watched scene after scene and communed in the memory of seeing this or that movie. I found myself sharing college memories with people I had not known seconds previously. The scenes included the wonderful moment from "Field of Dreams," when the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson asks Kevin Costner's character: "Is this heaven?" Glued to the screen, everyone around me mouthed in unison (with Costner), "No, it's Iowa."
I WONDERED how many times the people standing with me had seen that movie. I count at least 10 times, for myself. Where else would you find such a heavenly sense of shared experience, such a rarefied moment? Would mouthing "I'm the king of the world!" have provided the Cane County Stadium fans with the same euphoric clincher?
Give me a ballgame and a bunch of people who come to witness the suspense, the transformations, the reconciliations, the simple, sweet, and sublime acts of throwing, catching, hitting, and sliding. No sport is more pleasing to the senses. The sound of a fastball pocking the catcher's mitt, the smell of damp dirt after a runner stretches a double into a triple, or the crowd marveling at the perfect trajectory of a ball thrown from left field to home - all strike the ear, or nose, or eye, and they always crease the heart.
"Is this heaven?"
"No, it's Glenview."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society