THE BOYS OF SUMMER

A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.  ~Humphrey Bogart

 I’m convinced that every boy, in his heart, would rather steal second base than an automobile.  ~Tom Clark

My fondness for baseball has little to do with pennants or statistics.  I couldn’t recall World Series winners of years past, or recite a litany of RBI’s  or ERA’s.  I rarely watch the sport on TV.  I’m not a Little League Mom as there are no players in my family, yet some of by best moments are spent with the boys of summer.

 To me, baseball is and always will be the American Pastime.  I learned to understand the game as a girl watching her big brothers step up to bat at the local Little League field.  Dad was a loyal Pirates fan until the day he died of cancer; he once shared a hospital room with the great Bill Mazeroski, and he fell speechless the day Roberto Clemente was killed.

 Baseball is for regular people; you needn’t be seven feet tall or six feet wide to play.  It’s about family reunions and sandlot games.  It’s fireworks nights and standing to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch.  Is there a more reliable sound than the crack of a bat against a ball, or a more adorable image than the way a player’s hair curls out from under his cap?  Who can resist Crash Davis hitting his dinger or Benny The Jet Rodriquez pickling The Beast?

 Several times lately I’ve taken my place on the grass to watch our Little League or Teeners compete, for no reason other than enjoying the sight of some boys I love playing a game I admire.  Sunburned and windswept, I still came away smiling.

At each of the first two games I saw there was an unexpected bonus:  both times a foul ball took out the window of some fan’s nearby car. 

 “Heads up!” the ump yelled, and dozens of eyes followed the ball up, up, up, and out into the parking lot.  We continued to watch as the ball returned to Earth, then cringed collectively as we awaited the impact: a dull thud followed by the crackle of shattering glass.

 “Oh, man!” moaned the grownups in the crowd, commiserating with the poor fellow who’d chosen to risk disaster by parking so close to the action.  The boys, however, saw things differently.

 Those not needed on field dashed across the lot to inspect the damage and revel in its glory.  They kicked at the broken glass, exchanged high fives, pumped their fists in the air, then stood back to analyze the arc and velocity of such a serendipitous foul ball.   Needless to say, the batter was proclaimed a hero.  Let the dads worry about insurance and replacing a windshield; for the evening, every boy there was Roy Hobbs, rounding the bases after drilling a ball into the lights above the score board.  You could almost see the sparks fly and hear the triumphant soundtrack swell in the background.

 At the third game I found my attention diverted to a scene taking place off field, just behind the batter’s box.  One of the teenaged players was schooling a small boy—perhaps a brother—on the finer points of the game.  The little fellow could barely peek out from under the batting helmet that had been placed on his head; he wielded a bat way too large for his hands.  But the bigger boy tossed ball after ball to him, pausing to patiently demonstrate a stance, a bunt, a better way to hold the bat. 

 At that moment the boys of summer were increased by one.  Let the people say amen.

Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection.  ~Red Smith

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