Roger Marolt: Roger this
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Why do mountain people force their kids to play baseball in April?
Okay, so you already think I am jumping to conclusions here. Nobody is forcing kids to play baseball during our springtime, you say. That’s a good one. You mean that the nearly 28 inches of snow that falls on average during April and May not withstanding, it is a boy’s natural inclination to grab the bat, don the glove, and jump over the drift onto the field of partially thawed, mostly dormant, smells-like-dog-crap grass to take a few swipes at the ol’ horsehide before his fingers go numb?
Oh, I see. Nothing compares to the crack of the bat meeting the ball, unless it is the involuntary shriek of the batter reacting to the lightning bolt of pain shooting though his frozen hands and up his arms even upon perfect contact with the ball. It sure feels good to catch a ball in the palm of your glove when the temperature drops below 50. Tracking a fly ball while you are shivering uncontrollably is an incomparable adventure. There is nothing like loosening up the arm only to have it freeze tight between each and every inning. Tendonitis, along with all of its remedies, is fun!
When things get really bad, there is always the gym. What, you didn’t know that you can play baseball in a gym? Why sure you can! It’s one of the oldest gigs in springtime mountain baseball. Holding a baseball practice in a space designed in every way for playing basketball is as easy as stringing a mile or so of cord through a precisely aligned series of pulleys on the ceiling to suspend a gigantic net over the court. A few simple maneuvers with the cord, about three man-hours, and the ability to keep a few old time baseball curses handy with the willingness to use them in front of kids is all it takes a coach to prepare the gym for an afternoon of 20 kids fighting for their turn to get into the cage to take five swings at a ball flung from a pitching machine that is always out of adjustment. A smart coach gets the aspiring batters to patch holes, from errant throws, in the cinderblock walls while they are waiting for their turns. He convinces them that it is the best thing for building forearm strength and quickness in the wrists.
Of course, when I was a boy, the unenlightened adults that ran our recreational programs were lazy. Rather than rolling up the sleeves of their parkas and shoveling off the field so that we could follow our instincts to play ball in the cold, they waited for the sun to do their work and our baseball playing was necessarily delayed until the heat of summer arrived.
We became lazy, too. Intoxicating was the rich aroma of a freshly mown lawn. We became accustomed to chasing fly balls on soft, lush grass; the would-be hits making delicate landings in the supple leather of our gloves. At the plate, line drives flew off our bats without vibration or pain. Circling the bases with a trail of dust and lime mixing into the loamy breeze behind us marked our progress under the vernal sun. For crying out loud, we worked on our tans in the outfield.
I am ashamed to admit that the ease with which the conditions permitted us to play the game had an addictive effect on me. Languid at heart, I began to love the game of loafing and relaxation. I couldn’t get enough of it. Arriving at the field an hour before practice to play pepper with my buddies, and generally grab-assing around the park for hours afterward became my summertime routine.
Being thus hooked, as I grew to high school age, the novelty of being forced to play ball in March and fielding ground balls off of a wooden floor was tolerable, if not any the less perplexing. We didn’t question that our home games were played in a town called Rifle, two hours away, or that we practiced relay throws on the street, which was the only place not covered with snow in town.
We grew tough, strong, and determined under the adverse winter-like conditions we had to endure, even though we did not become better ball players. But, as we approached our wits ends after several months of cursing blizzards and too much travel, the end of school and the reward of a summer baseball program finally arrived.
We welcomed the new sport of baseball, similar to what kids played in places like California and Texas. Locally, it was the same players, the same coaches, and even the same uniforms, but the rules of nature changed everything. This new game in which you were likely to work up a sweat was fun!
Aspen is a funny place when it comes to sports. We blow artificial snow onto the ground in November so that we can ski before the real stuff falls from the sky, and then we plow it all off the fields to play soccer when the conditions for skiing are at their best. What is, perhaps, most perplexing about these anachronisms of sport is that the reason we give for pushing the seasons out of their natural rhythms is the same reason we often scold our children for using. We do it because “that’s what everybody else is doing.” We have to keep up with the Denvers and Grand Junctions of the world. It turns us into followers, not leaders employing common sense.
Organizing programs to get kids playing baseball in March in western Colorado has been a valiant effort by good people who love the game. Unfortunately, most of them have never actually experienced the horrid conditions that kids must endure and overcome to play America’s pastime in a northern European-like climate. Say what you will, the great effort of moving youth baseball from the ease of summer to the trials of spring has been very good for the local lacrosse program.
Roger Marolt had to finish this column in a hurry to join the powder posse on Highlands for a day of skiing. He’ll miss the game. Give him the rundown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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