Marolt: Field of memories: Leave it and they will come
On most days the Snowmass baseball field isn’t much to look at. It’s not a bad field; typical small town stuff.
There are times though, when it has a surprising effect on me, especially given its nondescript place in our town’s makeup. It’s across the road from the rec center. It might as well be in the middle of America. It hosts softball games twice a week and occasionally you will see people using it otherwise. Most know it as a special event campsite or the venue for rock concerts on Labor Day weekend.
I like it the way it is. It quietly serves its purposes and, as far as I know, has never been controversial.
Snowmass Village once had a youth baseball program. On successive years we were the Snowmass Village Muckdogs, Bees and twice the Big Burns.
Doug Throm, Patrick Keelty, Rob Robinson and I were coaches. Our sons played. We won two league championships and came within a couple of inches of winning it all the other two years. So strong were our teams that Aspen kids started coming out here to play in our program. Totally insignificantly, it might be the only time in our history that we had something going on here that Aspen was jealous of.
The kids grew up and went on to high school sports, and as the clock struck 12 on that new day, we coaches turned back into dads and followed our kids there as spectators. That’s the glorious history of Village Ball.
My son and I, though, discovered a bond by way of the game and continued to use the field to cement it. They say a game of baseball requires 18 players, but that is only true if you narrowly define “game.” We broadened our interpretations and invented dozens of objectives in playing catch, running down fly balls, scooping up grounders, and taking batting practice to keep enjoying our meetings on the field whenever the weather cooperated and free time in schedules meshed.
And so, it all led up to an evening last week, a few days before he headed off to his freshman year in college to play on a fancier field. As we laced up our spikes behind the backstop I looked out across the diamond and remarked, “This is beautiful!” The infield had been dragged smooth and left untouched by softballers due to rain all week. The same nourishing moisture had brought the turf to life in a green more vivid than in a dream you are saddened to wake from. The sun was lazily relaxing its angle for the lighter demands of fall.
Max was tired so we decided that I would mix in no junk from the mound for batting practice. He wasn’t in the mood for one of our usual games of me trying to fool him with a pitch and he mostly proving me the fool with his bat. I threw straight four-seamers right down the middle and he delivered them straight back into centerfield with a melodic pop, pop, pop.
Toward the end, he fouled a couple off. He dropped the bat in frustration and said quietly without discernible emotion, “I’m done.” We trod out methodically to harvest what he’d sown, erasing the life-size scatter chart of balls. We didn’t exchange the usual banter across the acreage. Whether by the weight of one big anxiety or the volume of many smaller, he was having trouble with the load. I allowed him his space.
We sat in the bleachers, taking off our spikes. I saw his eyes glistening, surveying the lush green through the silver mesh. Mine filled sympathetically. Change is difficult, especially when it involves growing up or getting older. When would we do this again? It felt as unanswerable as it was best left unasked.
Although feelings don’t usually reflect reality, they are what coax emotions to be expressed. As the sun in that perfect sky set over the forever familiar ridge, our emotions begged to be freed. I put my arm around him and we talked for a long time. The memories — knowing you can keep them forever, yet wondering what parts we would. Friends. Family. Faith. Life. It’s all opportunity that lies ahead, but the past is certain and far more comforting.
I would like to tell you that the old ball field brought us comfort that evening, but it only kindled pain. The comfort will come as I pass it in my daily commutes this winter and he in his dreams away at school. That evening it was the heart-bursting pain that comes only from recognizing father-son love that is always there but too seldom acknowledged. We were thankful for the gift.
Roger Marolt is more and more often startled by the rush of life passing by. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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