Monday, April 5, 2010

It's time for baseball, y'all

"There are a lot of people who know me who can't understand for the life of them why I would go to work on something as unserious as baseball. If they only knew."

-A. Bartlett Giamatti

Oh, the sweet smell of the grass.

The life lessons learned in that most simple, yet complicated set of angles.

My hero in life came from that field.

Henry Aaron. Against all odds and the stupidity of racism, he became the best the game has ever known. Until someone beats him clean, he will be the King.

I was lucky enough to have seen him play in Atlanta. When I could ride the bus to the stadium with a tomato sandwich in by brown paper bag, and sit in the outfield with old black gentlemen who taught me how to watch a game.

I was fortunate enough to play Little League in sweet East Point, Georgia. Underneath the shadow of the water tower.

I was never very good at it, but I did so love it.

Does anything feel as good as hitting a ball square into the centerfield gap for a double? Off of a wood bat?

Is there any replacement for snagging one backhanded and throwing him out at first?

Like anything in life, if you really want to be good at it, learn to teach it.

Coaching began as a parental desire to be involved.

It got the best of me. It taught me more about the game and the players and their families than any book could ever try to do.

My favorite and most painful lesson came in a game of 6 and 7 year olds.

A good kid was playing third base.

With two outs, the batter fouled the ball up in the air down the third base line. And "my" third baseman just watched it drop.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

I barked something at him.

After the game, his dad came to me.

He said, "Coach, Justin said he thought a foul ball was out of play. Nobody ever told him that if he caught it, it would be an out.

If you had, he would have gladly caught it for you."

That's when I began to learn how to coach. Which is another word for teaching.

Teaching a kid how to not fear a fly ball. How to let her glove do the work. The physics of throwing a ball properly. Getting balance on the mound so you can throw downhill.

Of all my baseball chapters, teaching the game to a group of Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian kids has to rank at the top.

They had heard of the game, but had never seen it.

So the first lesson was to pull a ball out of the bag and say, "This is a baseball."

It might as well have been a moon rock.

One of my best friends in life went with me on this adventure.

Nobes and I watched these kids go from never having seen a baseball to playing a full six inning game in a week.

The game seems so simple, until you try to explain why you have to tag the base you are on when a flyball is hit and caught in the outfield before you can take the next base. Or why a foul ball on the third strike isn't an out. Or why throwing a ball at the runner and nailing her in the back doesn't make her out.

Yep, it is a much more complicated game than we think.

But at it's heart, it is so simple.

As Bart Giamatti wrote, the wonder of the game is to get on base. Then once you are out there, you are away from your teammates and family.

Then the overwhelming goal is to get home.

Home is where we all want to get. But not before we first get out of the batter's box.

We all have to learn that good things happen when you swing the bat.

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