note: I first wrote this over two years ago. I saved it as a draft and recently pulled it up. After a recent baseball game, I thought it was still quite appropriate.
A woolly cloud hangs over the field threatening to wash out the game. Grandparents, charged with raising children long after their own have grown, make up most of the adults. The wind carries hints of old cigarettes from the fabric of a child’s uniform. All different kinds congregate in a small patch of shade lying to the side of one of the eight chainlink-divided dugouts. There are hippies, politicians, teachers, secretaries, farmers, unemployed, nurses, the silent, and the unknown. (One woman’s bumpersticker proclaims: “Proud GOP Woman!” Of interest: her husband, roughly 75 years old, recently was put off when I placed my chair near his in the valuable patch of shade. He grunted and moved his chair elsewhere. I guess he’s okay with talking to me, but he doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea…)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a fan of baseball–or softball, another sport that’s become part of my life since I began writing this. But I’ve never known a place where so many people get along so well. As a child I looked forward to evenings at my dad’s baseball games. Folks came from all over and would sit in the damp summer air to watch the game. I mostly caught crawdads or played on the swings, my friends and I attempting to see if we really could make the swing go higher than the top of the swingset bar. (Occasionally we’d sneak in the building to see if someone had left a pool table unattended. Children weren’t allowed, but the only punishment was to be sent outside.) When we tired of running around, we’d climb into the tower of the ball field and heckle the batters for the other team, cheering on our fathers and avoiding our mothers. Everyone got along. I played with children I didn’t know, kids whose fathers played on the other team, and so on, and I’d generally just have a good time.
Now that I’m watching my children’s soft/baseball games, those same experiences are happening but without the crawdads. Things are significantly more manicured than they were when I was a child–there’s actually grass at this ball field–but there’s that same spirit of community present, even amongst the families of competing teams. Young kids run around, inadvertently placing their hand on a stranger’s leg for balance before looking up into an alien face that’s smiling at their innocence. There are also the dogs. (Last night there was a golden retriever puppy that was cuter than I recall my kids ever being… Is that wrong of me to admit?) There’s sometimes that one person who yells at the ump’s every call against their child’s team (there was one of those parents at my daughter’s softball game last night; a post for another day: baseball is helping me come to terms with my kids’ and my imperfections. I’m learning a lot about being at peace with vulnerability), but overall there’s a strong camaraderie–we’re in this together.