Tag Archives: baseball

The Party’s Over…

i-has-a-sad-cat

The World Series is over (how ’bout them Red Sox?!?), and the long drought sets in. Sure, there is what’s called the Hot Stove League where aficionados can sit around and talk about games past and speculate on the future of their teams (the Nats have a new manager! Yay! Hope for the future!), and we can watch replays of Nats games all winter, but it’s not the same as live baseball. This dearth of action on the diamond will last until about the middle of February, when pitchers and catchers report. Still, that’s three and a half months away. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.

So, friends, stock up on some good reads, build a fire in the fireplace, and settle in. Baseball is about hope and expectation. True, it will break your heart, but there’s always next year. And, in the words of the poet Shelley, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

 

 

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What I Learned from Baseball

Zimmerman at Bat

Well, it’s the end of another baseball season and once again my team, the Nationals, are not going on to the playoffs after an up and down season. They did have a strong finish after floundering for much of the season. I suppose I should be accustomed to this turn of events, having been a Senators fan while they were here. Now I’m a Nationals supporter, always having been a home teamer regardless of how good the home team was. It’s a time of year with a great deal of ambivalence. On one hand, watching Messrs. Zimmerman, Strasburg, LaRoche, Harper, Gonzalez, Rendon, Werth, Desmond, Ramos, et. al. ply their trade was often enjoyable; on the other, I’m glad they won’t lose any more games this year. Thanks for the high points, fellas, and for the reminder of what baseball can teach us. I’m not suggesting these are valid for anyone else: I am struck by how many life lessons baseball can teach us if we pay attention. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from the game:

Never give up. I was surprised this summer to see a major league player give up on a fly ball that scored a winning run. Sure, it looked like the runner would score and he did, but as our coaches used to tell us, anything can happen. The runner could fall down. Lightning could strike the ball. Make the play. Run it out. Never stop trying. If we did not run out a play to first base, we ran laps around the field after the game. A good life lesson as well.

Team work is important. Not even Willie Mays could play all by himself. It takes all nine positions working together to make it work. That’s why seeing a game in person is so important. Easily half the game is watching the players move around to back each other up. The catcher runs down the first base line on a throw to first, just in case. The cut-off man goes out to take the throw from the outfield. They’re all working together as a team to do what they cannot do as individuals.

Play your position. Do your job, and don’t interfere with anyone else doing theirs. This might seem contrary to team work but it’s actually an important part of it. In a double play, if everyone does his job, the work gets done.

Keep your eye on the ball. It’s no accident that this has entered the language as a means of saying “Focus. Think about what you’re doing.” It applies equally to hitting and fielding. If a fielder takes his eyes off the ball, you can bet something bad is going to happen. True also in life. Focus. Think about what you’re doing.

Work to improve. The teams I played on were so low down in the talent scale we could have looked for oil while we were there. And yet we had practice each week and tried to become better players. It didn’t make much difference, but it’s an important principle in life whether it is applied to baseball or writing or singing or running.

Practice, practice, practice. This is a corollary to the lesson above. Even professional classical musicians practice every day and they’re great at what they do.

The Tom Hanks Rule: There’s no crying in baseball. The one successful season a team I was on came when we were twelve years old in the minor league of Little League ball. Other younger teams cried when something went wrong or they lost. We didn’t. I think that’s why we were successful. But we cried the year before, just like the other teams. Makes it harder to play well.

Arguing with an umpire is like smashing into a rock. Nothing changes except you hurt yourself. There are some situations in life where you just have to walk away. Knowing when to do so is another important life skill.

Listen to your coaches. No matter how much you know about something, unless you are the unacknowledged Master of the Universe, there’s someone who knows more about a subject than you do. Look for those people who can help you. Listen to them.

Sometimes strange things happen. The balls hits a base or an umpire. A fan interferes. Sometimes unfortunate things happen. Shrug them off and go on. Sometimes fortunate events occur. Rejoice in them and go on.

Baseball will break your heart. Over and over again. Count on it. And there is much in life to break your heart. However…

There’s always hope. No matter how bad things look, never give up hope whether it’s in a game, a season or a situation. Hold on to that hope.

And, perhaps the most important thing I have learned from baseball…there’s always next year. Go, Nats!

 

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Old School Baseball

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Civil War baseball reenactors in action. Honest. The batsman has just started for first after striking the ball fair. Run, Homer, run!

This past weekend, I went to some of the events that were part of the Civil War Weekend here in Manassas, which was staged to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run). There were reenactors, musicians, General Lee, speakers, authors, and a demonstration of CIvil War baseball, which, contrary to popular belief, was not invented by Abner Doubleday, a general in that war, who did codify some of the rules.

Baseball as we know it probably came from a British game called “town ball” (thank heavens we didn’t get a version of cricket. You think a baseball game is long and tedious–try going to a cricket match. Take your lunch…and your dinner…you’ll need both!)

Civil War baseball is played on the familiar field with the same number of players at their positions. However, the ball is slightly larger than its present-day counterpart, and the players don’t use gloves. The pitcher throws underhanded, and the umpire, dressed in a suit and top hat, stands to one side about ten feet away from the batter. The catcher wears no protective gear, which explains why so many were nicknamed “Gappy.” (I made that up.)

The picture is one I took of the action. The batsman had just hit the ball and is taking his base while the umpire looks on and the catcher looks for his missing teeth.

 

 

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Friday Poem of the Week: Life as a Metaphor for Baseball

Zimmerman at Bat

Life as a Metaphor for Baseball

Listening to my team lose on the radio this afternoon
I thought about all the phrases baseball players use to encourage each other
Like “Easy out!” and “I got it!” “Make him hit it to me!” “We got this one!”
And “Wait ‘til next year!”, and also
About philosophical outlooks: everybody gets three strikes and
You’re alive until you strike out or fly out or ground out
But then you might hit it big and homer for a grand slam
And every team gets twenty-seven outs and the game isn’t over until it’s over
You win some, you lose some, and some are rained out,
But you have to dress for them all.
So keep your eye on the ball, choke up and just try to meet the pitch,
Swing level, follow through and see what happens.
And oh yes, hold your head high, cheer up and be of good faith:
Here comes another pitch.

–Dan Verner

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Tallkin’ Baseball

Washington Senators
Washington Senators

I have been a baseball fan ever since I can remember. Now, I know that a lot people think baseball is about as fascinating as watching paint dry, but I find the complexity and nuances of the game intriguing. The beauty and grace of a double play, the power and excitement of a home run, the control and finesse of a good pitcher, the strategies and tactics of managers are all parts of the baseball. There’s a lot of history to the game as well, and much of it parallels the social and cultural development of this country as Ken Burns showed so well in his nine-part series on the subject.

Being a baseball fan in this area meant suffering with the Washington Senators who decamped not once but twice, to Minneapolis and Texas before we were left without a team for decades. The Senators were lovable but they weren’t very good even with sluggers like Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew and Cuban pitchers like Camilo Pasquel and Pete Ramos. I think Fidel Castro even tried out for a Senators farm team in the ‘50’s. Too bad he didn’t make it. Still, I have fond memories of lying in bed listening to games on an AM radio with static from distant thunderstorms crackling in the background. I saw one game in person at the old Griffith Stadium, an oddly-shaped little ballpark wedged in among the maze of streets near Howard University. The Senators lost that night, as they did the two games I saw at RFK Stadium.

Players then were not the highly paid superstars they are now. Most of them worked other jobs during the offseason. They were accessible, moving among us like mere mortals. When my minor league team won our division (with little help from me), our coaches treated us to a banquet. The guest was Jim Lemon of the Senators who talked to us and signed autographs. I can’t imagine many of today’s players spending time with a so-so Little League team. And now, of course, even a .200 hitter can command a salary in the millions.

Since I loved the game so much, I had every intention of becoming a major league player. Unfortunately, I had neither the coordination nor the talent to make it beyond apex of my career as a twelve-year-old in the Little League minors. I was tall for my age (six feet) but weighed about a hundred pounds. I also had a basic problem of being afraid of the ball. This made perfect sense to me since a batted or thrown ball really hurt when it hit me. Trying to snag hard-hit balls while dancing out of the way did not make me a great shortstop and I turned to other matters, mostly books. I had never heard of anyone being hurt by a thrown book, although I have had several fall on me, but they don’t hurt like a baseball.

It has been a delight to have the Nationals come to town and a double delight last year when they made the playoffs. They were eliminated in a heartbreaking fashion, but as someone once said, “Baseball will break your heart.” But it also gladdens and uplifts the heart and I for one can’t wait for the season to start. Go, Nats!

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March 13, 2013 · 1:09 pm