For Love of the Game

I never liked any kind of sports when I was a kid.  I understood that other people lived for them, but for myself, I never saw any value.  I tried to play because I felt obligated to join in with other kids, but I was terrible at all sports (big surprise there!), and I felt like they were a pointless use of time.  I have always wanted something to show for my time, like a picture, or a bowl of strawberries, or at least a clean surface.

I never saw the point of “Stand in this field, move around a certain way, get some magical ‘points’, and if you do it well, we’ll call on you to do it all again tomorrow.” I viewed recess the way other people view math. To this day, I would rather mow the lawn than stand around on it, dreading that some ball is going to come flying through the air and hit me on the head.

Over the years, I learned to value sports more.  Back when I was teaching, I would watch the kids play kickball at recess.  One year, I noticed that one of the boys (let’s call him Philip), went up to kick about every third kicker.  There were 12 or 15 on a team, but he was not waiting his turn in the kicking line-up.  I called the kids over and asked them why they let him get away with that, but they just shrugged – they found Philip charismatic and irresistible and let him get his way.  I realized that even I, the sports-phobe, had internalized “the rules of the game are sacred.”  One person doesn’t get to change the game.  Everyone needs to realize that there is something bigger and more important than they are, and a sport can be that something.

Which brings us to my great-nephew W, who lives for sports, especially baseball.

W is being raised by my sister (his grandmother), with babysitting help from my parents.  In this challenging situation, one thing that shines out is the way that these caregivers are working with W’s love of baseball to guide him as he grows up.

They play endless games of free-form baseball with him – one adult pitches, and W announces the batter, calls balls and strikes, hits the ball, runs all the bases, gives high-fives to the imaginary players in the dug-out, fields the ball,and becomes the next batter.   These games are more than just ways to work off physical energy – W gets to explore the game in many facets, at his own pace.  Since he is every player on both teams, errors are easier to accept (Batter A can’t make a home run unless Fielder B makes a mistake). He accepts his own strikes, or the pitcher’s bad pitches with equanimity.

His grown-ups also actively watch baseball on TV with him – they’re not just in the room with the TV on to babysit him.  They talk about grounders and force-outs and RBIs.  W knows the players on his favorite team, and can instantly adopt each one’s stance when he’s out playing.

And, in what I think is a brilliant idea, my sister is reading up on baseball history and biographies, and watching old baseball movies with her grandson.  She’s not trying to set baseball aside as a “treat”; she’s using it to build knowledge in other areas.  W can pick out Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and Jackie Robinson from old pictures, and he can keep them in chronological order in his mind.

When they were here for a visit last week, one night we watched A League of Their Own at my sister’s request.  At first W wasn’t too sure about watching a baseball movie with girls in it, but he was glued to it, and when it was over, he asked, “Can we watch it again tomorrow?”  When he told my mom about it, he said, “It was during the war, and one of the ladies was crying because she thought her husband was dead.”  At this point, he has no idea what war it was (or that there have been many wars), but as he gets older, this baseball tie-in will give him a point of reference for remembering topics in history.

So that brings me to my picture for this week’s 1 Day 1 World Project.  This week we’re doing the 7:00 – 8:00 pm hour, and in Texas, that is prime time for sports of all kinds.  I went to W’s baseball game and took a lot of action pictures.  This one is my absolute favorite.

baseball game

Somewhere in Texas, 7 – 8 pm.

Look at how all those little boys are orbiting around that ball, totally focused.  If I were a cinematographer, I would do that whole cliché – crack-of-the-bat puts everything into silent slow motion, then suddenly sound comes back and we zoom up to real speed again.

Anything that creates that much focus and teamwork is a thing of beauty.

I used a “fresco” filter for this picture – first of all, because I didn’t want the kids to be identifiable, and also, because that option gave the ball more contrast against the ball field.