Roger Marolt: A standing O for the Class of 2020 taking one for the team
It’s been 36 years since I played in a real baseball game; one on freshly cut grass, with solid white lines outlining a perfectly manicured batters’ box, wearing a fresh uniform, polished spikes, and umpires friendly before the first pitch and then serious as judges in court. I still dream about hitting a baseball. There is nothing like it, not even skiing fresh powder, in my opinion.
Hitting is easy before the game. It’s why everyone loves batting practice. Guys who throw it pride themselves in delivering meaty strikes, flat and fat right down the pipe. He’s not trying to fool you. He’ll apologize if he inadvertently slips one across the black, low and outside, the one you dread in a game. Nope, nothing like that here; it’s all sweet line drives launched from the sugar factory, no sting, only a satisfying sensation in the fingers, like biting into a wintergreen Lifesaver after it’s been in your mouth about 15 seconds.
Then you head into the outfield to shag balls. Some of the most fantastic catches you will ever see are made during batting practice. There’s no pressure. The ones you don’t have much of a shot at, you let go for someone else. But, then one leaves the bat and you instantly know it has the stuff for the highlight reel. You track it hard and then slow down just enough to make sure you basket-catch it over your shoulder. Cheers and laughter! Everyone knows how it works in this field where camaraderie is harvested. The only thing you can’t do is dive. Going up for your first at-bat in a grass-stained uniform is bad juju.
I loved playing in baseball games, but the sport is unique in that the practices are richly enjoyable, too. Its nature is that the weather is almost always pleasant. They are relaxed for the most part, with short bouts of intense concentration. The ball comes towards you and you are laser-focused on it for less than a second, then you swing, unwind, and track the flight of the ball. In throwing, the trick is bring the ball to its release point while zeroed in on an imaginary box about twenty feet in front of you and than watch it carry through that for another hundred feet to smack crisply, chest high into a teammate’s glove. Oh, so satisfying.
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Baseball is a team sport designed with a spotlight constantly shifting from one player to another. Whether at the plate with a bat in your hands or in the field with the ball rocketing towards you, there’s nothing a teammate can do to help. It is why there is togetherness in the dugout and the clubhouse and the outfield while shagging balls and clowning around.
We embrace for a lifetime the sports and activities that became favorites in our youth. We know the joys and heartbreaks of playing games for fun with the intensity of believing in the moment that the fate of the world is determined by the outcome. Dreaming of sports is a midnight gift, more so as we distance ourselves from the fields and courts in years. So, is it OK to feel genuine sadness for kids who are missing their last hurrahs in organized high school athletics?
I hope so, because it is a great thing that they will never have. The reality is that the coronavirus lockdown is taking a sports season away from high school seniors. It’s only one, but it is huge one. The truth is that they are doing it to save lives; it still hurts. They are taking one for the bigger team we are all on the bench for now.
At the risk of sounding like I have lost perspective, I admit that the spring baseball season of my senior year in high school is a highlight of my life. In the funnel cloud of pictures lifted from my cerebral scrapbook, ones from that time remain suspended remarkably still and crisp for me to stare at for pure pleasure.
We have a lot on our plates dealing with this pandemic, but I hope we can reserve a little time to remember the kids in this and think of ways we might be able to make the lost season up to them. Perhaps perspective dictates that local summer youth sports leagues become as important as summer internships. Maybe we resurrect alumni games. The least we can do is acknowledge that we understand their real pain. Between the loss of regular school and extra-curricular activities, our kids’ world may be more upset than the grownup one.
Roger Marolt is sorry for the dreams the class of 2020 will not have, but hopeful that others even better will replace them. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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