At Bat.

I love baseball.

No, I couldn’t tell you the starting lineup for any team ever. I can’t tell you who owns the records for any given accomplishment, but I’d recognize their names. What I can tell you is that I love baseball for my heart and soul and that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every baseball movie there is. Twice.

My love of baseball was acquired.

My first real job ever was at a minor league baseball team. I was an usher for the Albuquerque Dukes a long time ago in a place far away. They aren’t the Dukes anymore, now they are the Isotopes. Only ABQ would actually change the name of the team after an episode of the Simpson’s. Or name a town after a game show.  My now pink hair was blond the year A League of Their Own came out and I got told I looked just like Geena Davis a lot that year.

My section was between home base and the end of the dugout. I ushered season ticket holders to their seats and wiped them off with dotted blue shop paper towels that we folded in four.  Those towels would dry out in the Albuquerque sun, so we learned to have small little buckets with a bit of water in them to keep them wet. The kind of buckets most kids would take to a beach to make sand castles, I imagine. Some of us got fancy and had tiny spray bottles too, to help clean the red dirt and bird poop off the seats. I got tips. Yay, immediate gas money! I got to know my regulars and adorable hunched over elderly couples carrying their squares to fill in watching the game. I got to sit down at the top of the fourth if there was a seat. I got paid to watch baseball, and the crowd. I didn’t miss a home game. The tops of my thighs were always tan. Just the tops. I learned the Canadian National Anthem. I learned to love baseball.

I moved up, got a .25 cent promotion and worked the ticket window as a pregnant teenager. My boss at the time insisted on it. I ate a lot of mud dogs. I was allowed to let a few people into the games, especially on fifty cent hot dog night. You could take them home for later.  My son’s first baseball game was there.

One of the apartments we lived in overlooked third base of the stadium. I lived baseball in a different way. I never played, never an athlete, but I watched all the movies and went to every home game from high school through college.

During the strike, the minors kept playing. That was our busiest year that I remember. I still remember the Nike ad that ran on TV. Panning empty stadiums no words, no music simply  ” Just Play Ball, Please”. That might be the first time baseball made me cry. I love baseball.

I was pregnant with my second kiddo during that job too. Her first baseball game was there, though there is no way she remembers. I didn’t eat as many hot dogs that go around, more fries and churros.

Though I left the stadium behind when I finally graduated and we moved, I didn’t leave behind my love of the game. I love the smell of the field. The smell of freshly mowed grass with a symmetrical pattern,  the wet dirt after they mist it down just slightly. I truly love the crack of the bat and the satisfying thud the ball makes with a strike into the catchers glove. In ABQ I was always close enough to even hear the occasional slide into home, too. Watching on TV would never be the same. Except for October.

October baseball. It seems that no matter where I am, and I seem to travel a lot for October, we watch baseball. We’ve made it an unofficial, official thing. We watch the joy of winning and the agony of defeat in moments I can only imagine. I love baseball.

Besides October TV baseball, I need to go to at least one game a year. That feeling always hits as soon as I make it through security. That feeling of home, and the need to eat all of the junk food even if I just ate dinner an hour ago. Pro tip, just eat at the stadium.

There is something about being at a stadium that has wired me for joy. Even if my team doesn’t win. Even if there is no joy in Mudville, at some point during the game there is an electricity that when you close your eyes, you can feel it. That feeling is worth finding. Maybe, it’s when the jets fly overhead at just the right moment with the National Anthem. Goosebumps. Maybe it is singing during the seventh inning stretch.  It’s always there, if you let it be.

I saw my first Grand Slam at a game not too long ago. Honestly, I don’t remember who hit it, but I can still recall the moment like I am standing there at the top of the section with the purple railing. The absolute eruption from the stadium, the spilling of beers. The overwhelming joy I imagine he must have felt cranking a ball over 350. I have no real idea how far the wall here is. A moment dreams are made of. Yeah, I cried.

I love baseball, and the last game I went to reminded me of that love in the most profound way.

The rookie came up to bat.

I wouldn’t have known he was a rookie had the announcer not said so. He was born in February of ’93. His first at bat in the majors. His whole baseball life flashed before my eyes as he stood at the plate. I immediately thought of the years and years of practice. Playing in the park, first little league game, breaking in a new glove. The wins and the losses and sacrifices along the way. The skinned knees and superstitions he must have developed along the years that we didn’t know about. Maybe he wears his socks inside out? How many years had he swung a Louisville Slugger in the minors in the middle of nowhere hoping for his big break? I was hoping, truly hoping his parents were in the stadium somewhere. I hoped they were in the stadium that was cheering for their boy, in the stadium where every person there was rooting for the rookie.

I really wanted him to hit a home run, everyone there did too. If they didn’t they were wrong. I could feel the come on kid, you got this vibe from over forty thousand people. It was cold and windy, but for a moment I was truly warm. I felt comfort in an unforgetably wholesome way.

His first pitch. Strike. Come on kid, you got this.

Adjust, breathe, next pitch. Base Hit. He got a base hit! Unless you were some sort of hollow simulacrum there was no way you couldn’t feel it. The stadium itself moved with joy. No, not a home run but he made it. He had done something so few have ever done, so few get to do, let alone their first time. He got to first. Yep, I cried.

I love baseball.

In that moment I understood with rare, true clarity unmarked by Monkey or the Bitch. I got it. There were thousands of people there watching someone else accomplish a dream they had aspired to at one point in their lives, but for whatever reason the Universe had told them no. I get that.  There were thousands of kids there still holding on to the dream and praying that the Universe would tell them yes. I get that too. There were thousands of people who understood the pressure of wanting to do something right, to knock it out of the park. I so get that.

Everyone there understood the hard work and practice it took to get there.  Everyone understands the years of practice wether it is practicing music, mechanics or math. We all understand wanting to do something that others will appreciate. Being able to finally prove to yourself and others that you are one of the best at what you love, that is magic and the rookie did it.

Not all of us will ever have the confidence to point out to the field and own a moment like the legend. But we’ve all been a rookie, and we’ve all worked hard or are working hard at something right?

Next batter up, and he had the chance to make it to second. Done. Next batter,  then third. Could he do it?

Batter up. His whole team behind him, the rookie started running toward home plate faster than I imagine he’s ever run before.  I held my breath. The crowd started going wild.

His team, and a series of at bats to bring him home. Bring him home. He made it. The kid made it! The stadium stood up with pride for the rookie. Time itself slowed down for a moment, allowing the energy to sink in. The full dugout overflowed in joy, with more hugs and high fives than you could count. Everyone was happy for him. Everyone. Who wouldn’t be? The rookie made it all the way home. I cried those gifted, all too rare, tears of absolutely pure joy.

I love baseball.

“It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. ”

Might as well be a Star Wars quote, seeing as how it was Darth Vader saying it.

Fine, it is really James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams. But, what if Darth Vader even loves baseball?  I just can’t even with that one.  I really do love baseball,  baseball movies, and Star Wars. Monkey Nerd Brain making random connections. They all remind me that there is always good when we look for it around us, be it, or see it in others.

Remember baseball the next time you meet the new guy, the rookie.  Remember that no matter what we are doing,  someone is doing just that for the very first time. Remember how hard and scary and intense it was the first time you were up to bat. Remember the good that can be again. Imagine what it would feel like to have a crowd cheering you on, a team behind you willing it to happen for you. Imagine that, then do it. Tell people you’re a rookie so they can help bring you home. Cheer, stand with pride for someone else’s accomplishment, be part of the team you wish you had.

Just do it, please.

 I love baseball, and we are all just a bunch of kids at bat.

 

Learning to live unafraid.

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