Signs of Spring, Boys of Summer

Baseball 1886 Currier and Ives

Forget the groundhog a couple weeks ago, the real sign of the coming of Spring takes place today: Pitchers and Catchers report to Major League Baseball Spring Training. Baseball may not hold the hearts of American culture like it once did but, for those of us who still enjoy the game, this is one of the dates to look forward to on the calendar.

Many who are still fans of baseball today can trace their love for the game back to their own childhood playing days.  Whether playing for organized teams or in the backyard, many young boys dreamed of one day playing in the big leagues.  What could be better than spending afternoons (or now mostly evenings) in the green grass outfields or the combed dirt infields?  While dreams of fortune and fame were probably prevalent, it is not difficult to understand why some old timers said they would have played for free. Just the thought of playing, and of being considered among the best, was tantalizing enough.

I suspect this is why what Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) said in Field of Dreams resonates with so many of us:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

I never got to live that dream. My baseball career got shelved after junior high school, when I put my attention to other games: tennis, track, and mostly football.  But I did get a little taste of the dream, as I have had the privilege over the years to serve at different times as a chaplain in the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox organizations – for their minor league affiliates.  There I saw gifted young men pursuing the dream.  Several  made it to The Show, a few of my chapel regulars even made names for themselves.  They achieved the dream.

But as baseball begins anew today, prepping for the 2016 MLB season, I am reminded of an article I recently read by Rachel Balkovec, the first strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball, titled: Lost Boys.  Rachel reveals a side of professional baseball that few see.  It is the harsh reality associated with the dream.  She does not diminish the allure of baseball for those who adore the game, but after reading her brief piece baseball fans may have a greater appreciation of the cost of achieving the dream – a dream that few really experience.  And for those who, like I once did, dreamt of careers with seeming numberless innings, perhaps it can also help us to appreciate a little more the lives we now do have, away from the playing fields.

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