The Promise of Baseball

How someone who grew up in St. Louis, arguably the best baseball town in America, could get it so wrong is a mystery. April, national poetry month, is not "the cruelest month" as poet T.S. Eliot begins his poem "The Wasteland."

Rather, April heralds a new baseball season.

Nothing is kinder to a winter-drained psyche than that contemplation of playing, watching, cheering at ballgames as far as the mind can imagine - spring, summer, fall.

"Play ball!" Is there an opening line in all of poetry more lyrical, more heroic, more charged than this imperative sentence? It's like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" in a sound bite.

Come Sunday, men in black, their faces masked, do more than launch a thousand ships. As umpires signal the start of the game, the windup, the first pitch stirs the inner child, the mighty Casey, the loyal fan in all of us.

Wonderfully, each season brings special moments. Before the first pitch was tossed, one happened already in New England. A band of fans, fifth and sixth graders at Merriam School in Acton, Mass., put forth a challenge, as hope-filled as the first greening of grass on diamonds everywhere. They asked players on the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the snarliest and longest rivalry in pro sports, to shake hands before their Fenway Park opener in Boston April 11.

Of late, Red Sox-Yankee hostilities - over-the-edge taunts, field fights, fights in the stands, the stuff of kids really - didn't sit well with these kids. It troubled them all winter. No parent would want them to act that way. So they asked the teams to shake hands. What promise.

So - players, managers, team owners, fans - this season, let's first shake hands, then play ball.

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