This time of year is always tough. Football season is ramping up, the weather has hinted that it might start to cool off a bit here soon, and the kids have gone back to school. Even those of you who are not either a student or a parent have, at the very least, spent a long commute caught in the sloth-like wake of a school bus, wondering why we haven’t developed flying cars be now.
The answer: because your stupid teenagers would drive those flying cars, crashing into each other, killing thousands. Then where would we be?
There’s lots to distract us from our favorite pastime. Heck, I’ve even given up on Fantasy Baseball. My team, the Florida Dumpster Fire, has descended into last place, breaking decades-long records for ineptitude in our keeper league. It’s easy, in seasons like this, where the impossibility of a postseason was a foregone conclusion before the Findlay Market Parade took its first steps on Opening Day. Back then, we thought anything might happen. Now, we know that nothing has and nothing will.
How do we keep going?
I got home from work early one day last week. My oldest son was reading a book. Something about Dinosaurs. It’s a chapter book, more words now than the picture books he brought home last year. He’s into it, but not nearly as into it as he was the Jackie Robinson book we had him read over the summer. He looked up when I walked in, looked out at the back yard, then looked back to me. His gaze hung there for a bit, then returned to his book, glancing up every few seconds to see how I would respond.
One of the things my father and I used to do was we’d spend at least a few moments each day, tossing baseball in the flat part of our backyard in Greenhills, a suburb of Cincinnati. He had this old glove that had worn so thin over the years you’d swear you could see his fingers through the leather. He grilled me on stats.
“Who has the most career doubles?” he’d ask.
“Tris Speaker. 792.”
“Where did the Dodgers used to play?”
“Who has the most homeruns?”
“Hank Aaron,” I said. “Come on, Dad. That’s too easy.”
We’d toss like that for hours, sometimes running over random historical baseball facts. Other times we’d talk about that evening’s lineup.
“Larkin, Sabo, Davis, Parker, O’Neill …” he’d start.
“O’Neill?” I’d say. “Not him. That guy’s a bum!”
One time, while listening to Marty and Joe, O’Neill came to bat in the bottom of some random 9th inning and, before the pitcher even wound up, Dad declared him a no good bum. “We should trade him for a six pack,” he’d say. “We’d get the better end of the deal on that one.”
Naturally, O’Neill hit a homerun and won the game. Ever since then, we called him “That Bum,” hoping our denigration would lead to more success. Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t. But we believed it lead to something, and that’s what mattered.
We’d stand out there for hours, tossing the baseball back and forth, running over statistics, telling stories, making fun of our favorite players. This was in the mid to late ’80s, mind you. Those seasons were often over by the time school started. But we kept at it anyway. We loved the game, sure, but the ritual of it is what kept it alive during those long months of uselessness. The staid expectation of tossing a ball till dark, then sitting on the porch to at least hear the lineups before retiring to the responsibilities of homework and chores and early bed times. That’s what kept the game alive when it seemed like there was no life left.
You don’t abandon the things you love. Even if everyone else does. Even when it seems like the easiest thing to do. Stick with it, and it will stick with you. You will be better for it in the long run.
My son glanced up from his book once more and I grinned at him. He jumped from his seat on the living room couch and ran into the back yard. We couldn’t stay there long. For one, it’s still very hot down here in Florida and the sun bakes our backyard all the way till sunset. Also, he had homework and I needed to help with dinner.
But for this moment, as we tossed a baseball back and forth, we kept the ritual alive. For another day at least.