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Summerday

It’s June 21 today, the summer equinox, the longest day and shortest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. It’s 73° F, cloudy, and threatening to rain. It doesn’t feel like the first day of summer. It’s more akin to late September, the way the air feels heavy with moisture and the sun struggled so mightily to break through the clouds here in coastal Virginia. It will still be bright enough outside to read by 8:00 pm tonight, and the climate will still be pleasant enough to enjoy without resorting to heavier dress. Today certainly hasn’t broken any low temperature records for the first day of summer and will not.

It’s still Summerday.

I always dreaded this day because it’s the beginning and the end of summer. Sure, the days will certainly be hot and oppressive with the humidity here until roughly the first week of October, the way that the season simply refuses to die in Virginia Beach. Somebody once told me that, here, it goes from summer to winter. Not exactly true, of course. But not quite an exxageration, either, depending on who you talk to. Virginia Beach gets all four seasons, although the summers here can be long and tormenting. Today, however, almost feels like it went from summer to fall. It gets like that here, and anybody who’s lived here long enough could tell you that days like today aren’t exactly an aberration. Hyperbole aside, today is typical of the kind of rainy summer weather that occasionally rolls into coastal Virginia. One quickly gets used to it and thanks the jet stream for providing relief from the Iberian heat.

But on this Summerday, it feels different. Today almost feels too forceful a push over the peak into a quick decline toward the shortening of daylight and encroaching supremacy of night. Independence Day and baseball’s All-Star break aren’t until July, but the oncoming rush of the dog days of summer seems somehow too quick, the promises of further fun days in the warm sun and sandy beaches ringing somewhat hollow. The joys of warm summer fun seem fleeting, dancing out of reach as today begins the slow ending of longer sunshine and safety from bitter winter.

I know: I’m getting older. The boyhood joys that I looked forward to from the warmer spring showers of the last days of April until the ripening apples of September recede further into memory, gazing sadly at me from a distant horizon as I feel my footsteps grow heavier, my sinews protesting louder as I briefly pretend I’m still ten again, recalling the joyful memory of dandelions sprouting in the grass, of coming home from school for the final time, when a road of endless boyhood possibilities yawned wide beyond a forest of scholastic drudgery. For three months, as a boy in Pennsylvania, it was fun to be free, to go on fishing trips with my father to Green Lane or Peace Valley, to go with my family to the Jersey shore to play in the warm surf, to ride my bicycle to the comic book store in Abington and sneak down to the creek to hunt for salamanders with Rico and some of the other local boys.

I’m not young anymore and those days are long past. Memories of being a summer youth sparkle wistfully like fireflies in the humid darkness.

But for a time, until Summerday, it’s still more than fifteen hours of sunshine, with a whole day ahead of me to feel like I can be a boy of ten again, to know that it won’t be dark in the baseball stadiums until after seven, and the cool water of the community pool or roaring ocean waves will feel refreshing from the cruel heat. After Summerday, those joys will still be there, but will come at an expense of time that will eventually be borrowed, until they slip away.

Until next summer. Until the next Summerday, when I’m reminded that I should take better care of the spending of my fleeting summer time.

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(photo courtesy of http://www.wunderground.com)

Worlds Apart

I was sitting outside on the patio of the Starbucks I frequent following my work day when the minstrel silently pulled up to the curb on his silver chromed mountain bicycle.  He was tall, maybe six feet exactly, but the boots he wore probably added an inch to his frame.  The man was of medium build, tanned, and his weathered, leathery features were framed by a long wavy mop of salted brown hair and graying beard.  The minstrel’s eyes were deeply set, dark, and glanced around casually as he finished his cigarette and crushed it beneath his heel. His faded black tee shirt clung comfortably to him, familiar to his muscled arms and chest.  His flesh was unmarked by tattoos.  The blue jeans he wore were faded, frayed, and fit perfectly.  His bike was festooned with neoprene zipper bags that hung on over unmoving part.  A small towing cart was hitched to the rear of the bike’s frame, loaded with several small zipper pouches.  The center bar held a long zipper pouch emblazoned with the logo for Levaquin, an antibacterial medicine.  A shiny mahogany Fender acoustic guitar, new-looking, hung tightly strapped to his back as he dismounted the bike and approached the entrance.  He didn’t say a word.

I glanced at him, not meeting his gaze, as he walked past the sofa I sat on and went inside.  A few minutes later he came back out, holding a small cup of coffee, and silently stepped past me.  His eyes looked straight ahead.  No smile formed on his mouth.  He fiddled with several of his mounted bags and sipped his coffee, then lit another cigarette.  He stood silently and calmly gazed around, as if sensing the Earth’s rotation and felt as one with it.  Or maybe he was waiting for something.  Several moments passed before he finished both his cigarette and coffee.  He crushed his smoking end and threw the empty cup in a nearby trashcan.  He slowly gazed around once more before securing his gear, tightened the strap on his guitar, and mounted his bike.  I watched him silently ride off, receding down Nimmo Parkway until he was out of sight.

I didn’t talk to him.  I didn’t ask him what his name was.  I had no idea what he does for a living, but I guessed that he was living a transient existence, worked outside mostly, and was in his late forties.  The bike and guitar looked new.  Perhaps he recently purchased them.  Maybe he does have a home somewhere, or lives with somebody.  I don’t know.  I didn’t bother asking him anything.  I was curious, though.  He could be bicycling around Virginia Beach as a barroom or coffee shop musician, making a desperate living off the few tips he could collect from people impressed enough by his playing.  I wondered if he went into the Starbucks to ask the baristas if he could play for a few hours, for a few dollars, and they politely refused.  I don’t know.  All I know is that he didn’t ask me if I could spot him some money or sit down opposite me to talk.  I wanted to know something about him.  But we didn’t talk.  Maybe he didn’t want to talk.  I would have asked him what kind of music he played, and how long he’d been doing it. I appreciate musicians, especially musical soldiers like him, the kind that Bob Dylan sang about.

But I didn’t.  Distrust formed as a coiled viper in my gut, telling me to remain silent.  If I offered to talk, he probably would have asked me for money, which I have access to, but I was glad no exchange took place between us. Something in my gut told me not to engage the possibility, lest he turned out to be a beggar.  And the way to my heart is by pity.  Because I could have been in that situation as well.  Except I’m not an artist.  I can’t play guitar.  I can’t draw or paint.  I couldn’t survive in that kind of life.  I have a life and mode of existence that are probably so alien to his that he and I would have little common ground.

A wide chasm, unseen, opened in the small distance between the minstrel and I.  We live in two completely different worlds.  But I may have wanted to know what his world is like.  Maybe my fears of strangers are largely unfounded.  He was alone, probably lonely.  The worst feeling in the world is to feel completely, irrevocably alone.  The Levaquin logo on his bike’s center bar could have been a vital clue to what was going on with his health.  He could have been ill with something, a chronic illness that requires constant attention.  I should have asked him how he was doing.  Maybe that’s what he was waiting for before riding off on the bicycle that carried perhaps his entire life.

But I said nothing.

He stoically rode off, to his next destination, wherever that was, alone.  I watched him go, and a quiet chill blew into my soul.

Sometimes the widest, insurmountable chasms between two human beings, between two worlds, are only a few feet apart.

Quantum

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We exist in two places
At more than one time
Sharing one moment
Which may come again
But has already been
I know this
Because I was there
We were together
Even though separated
Together and apart
We live as two
And exist as one
And our time apart
Brings us together
A paradox
I do not understand
Yet I know
Our particles are the same
Across a vast cosmos
Identical in mass
Charge and spin
Like a butterfly’s wings
A nebula’s glory spreads
As a star dies
Another is born
I reach out to you
You reach out to me
And together we sing
Across space and time
A music only we know
For we live as two
And exist as one

(photo courtesy of NASA)

Milquetoast

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When I was twenty-four, I boarded a jet plane and fled the sinkhole that was the state of Georgia, my estranged parents and my psychotic girlfriend to spend the remainder of summer in Colorado with my Uncle Mike. I hadn’t seen him in nearly a decade and he invited me to stay with him to get my head back together. I really was a mess. We started my therapy with an almost endless supply of Coors beer, beginner’s lessons in martial arts, and a formal introduction to Denver Broncos football. Hey, name any other shrink who would prescribe shit like that to cure his patient of suicidal ideation.

My Uncle Mike, a font of wisdom and insight unparalleled when he was completely sober (which, by the way, was as rare as a Cleveland Browns championship), began an intriguing conversation with me one evening:

“Andrew,” he said, “If you were suddenly confronted by a guy who said he was going to beat you up, would you stand and fight or run? There is no incorrect answer, by the way.”

I didn’t hesitate. “Probably run.”

“Okay. Why?”

Again, I answered quickly: “I can’t fight.”

“Wait…what do you mean by that?”

“I just can’t.”

Uncle Mike blinked, then stared for a few seconds. “You wouldn’t even try?”

I shrugged and sipped my beer. “Depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether the other guy knew how to fight.”

Uncle Mike looked incredulous. “But I’ve been teaching you some hapkido and a few other disciplines. You’re not doing too bad.”

I leaned back on his sofa and thought for a minute. “Well, yeah. I appreciate it. Some training is better than no training, I guess.”

“So would you fight if somebody gave you no choice?”

“Like what?”

“What if you were trapped or cornered?” Uncle Mike pressed.

I shrugged. “I’d probably let him beat me up or kill me then.”

Uncle Mike stared in disbelief. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. Seriously.”

“You’re going to sit there and tell me that you would just let somebody kill you?” he exploded. The apartment building he lived in sat high on a hill and he left the door open like he usually did to let in that pristine Colorado mountain air. Anybody outside would have heard him. Which they probably often did, when he got sufficiently loaded. He was already famous in the town of Steamboat Springs for his bouncing checks.

“Preferably not,” I conceded. “But I thought there were no right or wrong answers.”

“The question was would you fight or run if challenged?”

“Okay, then, I’d run.”

He shook his head. “But what if you couldn’t?”

I spread my arms out in frustration. “Then I’d let him beat the shit out of me until he walked away. Roll up into a ball. Something. I don’t know.”

“You wouldn’t fight at all?”

“Uncle Mike, the guy who’d want to beat me up would probably possess more fighting ability than me. The fight would be over in seconds.”

“You’re missing the point!” Uncle Mike yelled. It was his favorite phrase, especially when debating with me. I often didn’t see his point, therefore I often missed it entirely. He stepped away from the breakfast counter he’d been leaning on and stood a few feet away from me, his eyes wild. “You either fight…or run. If you can’t run, you fight. There is absolutely no other recourse. You cannot just stand there and let somebody kill you, dammit!”

I finished my beer and set it on the coffee table among all the other dead soldiers he and I had spent. There was more than a platoon of them standing there like silent glass tombstones, mournfully awaiting the resurrection at the recycling plant. I was buzzed and he was well on his way to brown bag mode. The conversation was going nowhere as far as I was concerned, but I knew he wouldn’t let up until he’d made his point in ninety different ways on Sunday. Winning an argument with Uncle Mike was nearly impossible. He always had to prove somebody wrong.

But he was going to lose this one. He wouldn’t see it coming.

“Uncle Mike,” I began, “You’ve known me for a long time. Do you know how many real fights I’ve been in?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. How many?”

“Two,” I replied, thinking about them. The sensation of a bee stinging me and embedding its stinger deeply within my flesh without the ability to pull it out formed in the back of my brain. The first was a real knockdown fight with Danny Gower when I was nine. He was studying karate. And he beat the shit out of me. The second was recent and began as a sparring match, but it quickly escalated to a real tae kwon do exhibition by my roommate. And I was the sparring dummy. I was still nursing the bruises on my thigh and chest.

I stared at the empty bottles on the coffee table and an image of a cartoon character came to my mind: Caspar Milquetoast, the star of a strip called The Timid Soul. I came across Milquetoast when I was researching twentieth century cartoon culture for an art history project at Temple University. He was a weak-willed, frightened worm of a person. When he shot a hole-in-one while golfing and nobody was watching, he didn’t tell anybody because he was sure nobody would have believed him. He had no courage, no strength of personality, like he was milk toast. Hence, his name. He skulked on the margins of society, hiding off the radar because he was weak and he knew it. He represented a psychological stereotype, that, sadly, isn’t unreal.

I was drawn to Milquetoast because he and I are so much alike. I have always been timid like him. Part of my diffidence stems from my stutter, which I have suffered since I was born. Get me anxious, just a tiny bit, and I’ll begin stammering and blocking, spittle forming on my lips, because I can’t form words correctly. Then I’ll begin shuddering in shame and humiliation when the laughing and taunts begin. The derision, starting in early childhood, is like a hot branding iron scarring the gray matter of my brain. It never goes away. Then there was the constant moving around with my family, from one state to another, one city to another, never forming a solid foundation for my upbringing, providing no firm stability. Add to that my already unstable psyche, exacerbated by my stuttering, igniting depression like a lit match being thrown on a lake of gasoline.

I’m a very unhappy, flaccid person. Hardly anything motivates me to win, much less fight, because I can’t be unmade. I am what I am. So if I don’t strive for anything or fight for my dignity…don’t assume that I really have a choice.

I shook away Milquetoast’s woebegone image and said, “I lost both because I made the mistake of thinking that I could fight. There’s more to winning a fight than training in martial arts or boxing, you know. You have to have motivation, stamina and good hand-eye coordination. I have none of those. All the training in the world isn’t going to help me win a fight against a dedicated opponent. So I’d either run…or stand there and accept my fate if I couldn’t run. Fighting would be useless for me.”

Outrage lit his face. “You know, if every Jew in 1938 thought the way you do, there would be fewer Jews alive today. The Nazis got only about six million of them. Can you imagine how many they would have killed if none of them fought back? Not all of them ran, dammit! For Christ’s sake, even if Bruce Lee wanted to beat you to a pulp, you wouldn’t just stand there and let him do it willingly!”

I laughed and said, “If Bruce Lee told you he was going to shit on your chest, the only realistic thing you could do is ask him what brand of toilet paper he likes. And pray he didn’t have diarrhea.”

Uncle Mike stared like somebody watching a man drown from afar, unable to do anything to save him. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “So…you wouldn’t even try. You’d give up.” It was more a statement than a question.

I grimaced and said, “I wouldn’t be giving up anything because I’ve got nothing to begin with.”

He sauntered back to the breakfast counter and propped his elbows on the surface, holding his head in his hands. “You…wouldn’t even…try…” he moaned. He lifted his face up and looked at me with drunken, sad love. His eyes were bloodshot with despair. “You know…this is going to follow you for the rest of your life,” he said with hollow sadness.

I considered. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

“I’m just trying to help you,” he said. He actually sounded completely sober as he said, “I don’t know that I ever saw you fight for anything, Andrew. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Yes,” I replied quietly. “It does.”

It does.

Maybe the fact that it bothers me means I’m not beyond hope. I want to be remade. Because milk toast is only good for being thrown in the trash. Who eats that crap, anyway?

something about drawing

joker5974:

This is something every creative soul needs to consider before giving up. Thank you, Sharon.

Originally posted on Sharon Lyn Stackpole:

I’m never angry when my boys fill up their notebooks with doodles because I did that all the time. I flipped to the back and drew while the teacher spoke and before long the back of the notebook was thicker than the front and I’d have to ask my mother for a new notebook, or borrow a sheet of notepaper from someone else. I was all the time borrowing notepaper from everyone else.

Kids ask me now, “How’d you learn to draw like that?” and I have to tell them — I’m a little bit sad when I say it, because there’s no quick route — “I practiced. For years.”  Like — forty years.

We all start out the same level. Either you keep at it or you don’t. It seems easier for some than for others but it doesn’t exactly come naturally for anyone. It’s just that I was…

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Soft Palms

I have soft palms on my hands
For they have never handled anything harder
Than a door knob that feels locked
When I try to turn it
Maybe I’m not strong enough to turn it
Or maybe I threw away the key
Because I was always afraid of
What’s behind the door
Soft hands are attached to soft arms
That held nothing heavier than
The weight of dreams
That weigh next to nothing
Because all I have are dreams
As intangible as gossamer
Never approaching the luster of gold
That weighs heavier
Soft arms lead to a soft body
That is nearly devoid of scars
Because I never found anything
That was worth fighting for
My flesh is untanned because
I don’t spend enough time in the light
That’s always outside the door
That I can’t seem to open
Like an amoeba I move shapelessly
Through the brackish soup of the day
Never evolving to a higher form
Never to know how much bigger the world is
Because I locked my human destiny
With a key that I threw away
Or maybe it slipped from my grasp
Because I have soft palms

Nine Innings

I love baseball.  Among all my interests, it was my first real love until Star Wars and rock music grabbed a firm foothold in my life, but I never stopped loving the game.  From an early age, I was indoctrinated, partially by my father, in the sport that is so quintessentially American and so important to young boys, from the cornfields of Iowa to the rock cliffs of Maine, played on volcanic ash soil of Maui and dusty back lots of New Jersey. Every summer, my attention is lured to the diamond, to the desperate plays made from shortstop to home plate, to hear the crack of the wood against the tightly-packed leather of the Rawlings-made ball.

To me, while Major League baseball is being played, it’s still summer.  It’s boys attending games with their dads in hallowed grounds like Camden Yards in Baltimore and Dodgers Stadium in Chavez Ravine.  It’s hot dogs boiling in the cookers of street vendors near the stadium and sunflower seeds being spat like missiles in the stands.  Babe Ruth may be long gone, but his words speak of eternal wisdom:

“I thank Heaven we have had baseball in this world…the kids…our national pastime.”

My favorite baseball teams are the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League and the Boston Red Sox of the American League.  I have never attended a Red Sox game, especially in Boston, but I did enjoy the opportunity to watch the Phillies play in the old Veterans Stadium, during their magical 1993 season, when they apparently forgot how to shave and launder their uniforms, best exemplified by John Kruk, one of the best power hitters in the game at that time, whose torn, dirty jersey hanging out of his pants told the world that he didn’t much care how he appeared as much as he cared for his game, hitting line drives that nearly always bought the under-appreciated Phillies another runner on base, another chance to score when they were behind. This was a team that had no chance of winning it all…but by God, did these Phillies try.

Guts.  They had them in abundance.  That and gritty, screw-you determination by Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra, Jim Eisenreich and Kevin Stocker, Kruk and Milt Thompson, capped by Curt Schilling’s superb control of the ball and Mitch Williams’s late-game scares…my God, there has never been a team like that since and there may never be such a lineup like that again.  Johnny Damon’s “Idiots” of the 2004 Red Sox are the only other candidate for a losers’ club that had the guts to defy fate and make it all the way to the World Series.  Unlike the Sox, though, the Phillies lost their Series.  They tragically fell to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games.  Mitch Williams could not survive Joe Carter, and they quickly faded into wistful legend.

Phillies fans suffered for another fifteen years before another team, more athletic than any that came before them, fueled by incredible hurlers like Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, blasted into destiny’s wind by sluggers like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, finally made it back to the Fall Classic and, defying statistics, Mother Nature and Bud Selig’s bungling management of the Series, finally brought a pro sports championship back to the City of Brotherly Love, twenty-five years after the Seventy-Sixers won the NBA Championship, ending one of America’s longest championship droughts.

Many of the players on that magical 2008 Phillies team are still there, and I’m following them on my iPad and iPhone.  I steal a moment here and there at work to watch them play on MLB TV.  I don’t care that I threw down over a hundred dollars for the season.  It’s my hometown team.  They represent.  I bleed red, white and blue if cut.  It’s how I roll.

I love watching these current Phils.  Cliff Lee is my favorite player.  He has awful outings, like the season opener, when they beat the Texas Rangers at Arlington in the ninth inning despite a poor performance by their star pitcher.  But Lee has guts.  He doesn’t give up.  He may get tired.  He may get shaken.  But he keeps going until Ryne Sandberg pulls him.  Today he pitched a gem, working seven solid innings in a 2-0 shutout against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.  Jonathan Papelbon, who disgracefully blew a save in the third game in the Texas series, rebounded to pitch a perfect ninth inning as relief.  Even when Papelbon has a stinker, he still keeps it going.  Guts.  And white knuckles…

These Phillies are renowned for cardiac events like that, and I’m looking forward to catching every spare moment to watch them play.  When they aren’t playing, I watch my adopted team, the Red Sox.  Like the Phils, they suffered plenty over the last century.  And nobody destroys the New York Yankees like the Sawx do.  They do it elegantly, fueling a major sports rivalry that has gone on for a century.

Rivalries aside, baseball is an amazing game.  It is a leisurely, yet tiring, activity that pushes those who play it to their limits of endurance, exhausting muscle and sinew to prevent runners from advancing on base, siphoning dehydrating perspiration from the necks of pitchers as they work the strike zone, playing chess games with the one at bat, striving to make every pitch a check.  The batter stands ready at the plate, every muscle tight, his nervous system oscillating with the rhythm of every second that passes, his hands holding the bat like a wooden sword, his eyes focused on the space between him and the pitching mound.

Then the pitch comes, and the batter has only microseconds to seek the red dot darting like a laser beam from the pitcher’s hand, the only thing that registers as a ball hurtling toward him, the visual cortex only seeing the stitches spinning like a proton.  The brain makes the decision in a nanosecond: swing or hold.  Will the red dot stray outside the strike zone?  Is it coming low above the plate?  Regardless, a choice has been made, and the shoulders, wrists and abdomen will take precedence over all other functions.  Swing and hit.  Swing and miss.  Or do nothing and hope for the best.  He may strike out.  Or fly out.  Or be thrown out.

But in a span of nine innings, the batter will get another chance to crush the ball with his swing and drive it in play between outfielders or send it over the wall, into the stands, or into thin air.  The pitcher will have another chance to retire the next batter and the next until fatigue takes hold, the arm gets tired, or he gets sloppy and the manager reluctantly pulls him from the mound to be relieved by the bullpen.

Three strikes.  Three outs.  Three hours average.  Over nine innings.  If more innings are needed to resolve a game, then so be it.  But it’s usually all over in nine innings.  In those nine innings, the whole of existence is compressed into sun, grass, dirt, heat, sweat, pain, dehydration, muscle, concentration, beer, tobacco, urine, saliva, water, peanuts, hot dogs, boos, cheers, success, failure, loss, and hope.  The ballgame is like life.  You play, you win, or lose.  At the edge of your heels.  If you watch, you live vicariously through every pitch, every line drive, every strike, and every home run.  At the edge of your seat.

If you have the privilege of playing for the big leagues, or even regularly attending a baseball game, major or minor league, I envy you.

Abner Doubleday, the Civil War general, did not invent the game of baseball.  Nor was it invented in the United States of America, for that matter.  Those myths were promulgated by the early tycoons of the game, particularly by Ban Johnson, the legendary president of the American League.  He was wrong, but he can be forgiven.  There never was a specific origin of baseball, American, European, or otherwise.  Like many great things, the game evolved over centuries.  The game of hitting balls and running bases may be as old as the pyramids, played on grainy plateaus under a murderous sun before being brought westward, over the Carpathians and across the Danube, before it was known as Rounders, Base and Cricket in England before being brought across the Atlantic, to the new world.

The story of baseball is the story of America, before and after independence was declared and fought for in the British colonies.  It’s so deeply embedded in both the soil and the blood of the inhabitants of the new nation.  Every epoch of the game reflected the times and morals that prevailed in every decade since 1776.  Like American society, baseball exhibited an exclusivity in every caste, from African Americans to the Jews, rich and poor.  It was played in empty fields by gentlemen and the poor, young and old, by happy-go-lucky amateurs before the first professional leagues were established in the Northeast and the Midwest.  Though its origins lie in the distant mists of the past, hailing from other cultures, there’s something uniquely American about the game, a Yankee mystique that defies simple explanation.

Perhaps it’s the crude talk in the dugout, derived from invented slang or words inherited years ago from other languages, migrant smatterings that were gradually adopted into the common talk.  Or the barely-palatable food and drink that are sold in the stands, mass-produced in factories trying concoctions formulated to make food fast and the beer potable on a budget and with speed to satisfy the masses.  America, a land of immigrants, has had both immigrants and children of immigrants play in dusty uniforms and endure the cheering and jeering of the crowds.  The names of the teams are certainly indicative of things that speak quickly of America.  The Rangers are based in Texas, named after the territorial police force that roamed the prairies.  The Mets are from New York, the Metropolis of the World.  The Cardinals of Saint Louis are named after a common North American bird.  The Rockies are named after the majestic range that divides the continent, the mountains’ glory peaking in the state of Colorado.

Baseball is also ubiquitous across the continent.  The game is played in stadiums older than the oldest Americans living today, in storied cathedrals like Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago.  It’s played in newer steel-and-concrete marvels like the new Yankee Stadium in New York and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.  Elsewhere, it’s played across the northern border in Canada and in Latin America.  It’s massively popular in Japan, China, and India.  Some cultures derive a peaceful Zen approach from it, and the game, in fact, reflects many tenets of that venerated philosophy.  Others approach it from a purely scientific point of view, studying the statistical elements of it and building teams with players that produce both numbers and qualities to make the organization competitive enough to perhaps make the leap from losers to winners.

It’s about life.  It’s about fun.  It’s about business.  It’s about belonging.  On the professional level, Major League Baseball may never approach the energy, scale and profitability of the National Football League, but it’s been around longer, its legends are more mythical, and its personality is etched forever in the collective consciousness of every living generation today.  Nearly every school has a baseball or softball team.  Baseball diamonds occupy a corner in nearly every municipal park.  It’s in every city, in every suburb.  It’s here to stay.

To millions of Americans, summer officially starts in the beginning of April, when the major leagues begin playing and life in the warmer months is defined over 162 games, from the end of March to the end of October.  Despite the losses, the games blown in the late innings, the struggles to remain relevant in the standings…baseball is played with passion.  With guts.  With love for the game.

I played baseball when I was younger.  I began in the tee-ball league, then tried my hand at Little League, playing at Roychester Park in Abington, Pennsylvania.  I fielded terribly.  I was quickly rotated to last in the batting lineup.  I struck out at every at-bat.  My batting average was .001, the 1 having come by virtue of the one foul ball, the only “hit” I ever got playing the game.  My father, a patient man in most circumstances, tried to improve my stance, my swing, my follow-through, and how to read the ball as it came soaring at me.  No matter.  I whiffed at every pitch.  I swear, at least a few of the kids on the mound actually tried to throw me one I could hit.  I never did.

I threw my baseball glove in the trashcan one evening, following another failed performance at the plate, perhaps my twentieth game.  It was my last.  I vowed never to play again.  My father retrieved my glove from the trash and kept it in the garage, a relic from a frustrated childhood.  He kept it next to his.  I’d see it sitting next to his, mine smaller, his larger, my name freshly-inked on the leather, his name faded, nearly indistinguishable on the darker cow hide, but the flashing memory of two generations of boys who played baseball in the summer still plays in my mind, knowing that moments like that will never come again.

I often regretted playing baseball, being the worst player on my team.  I don’t anymore.  I wouldn’t want to go back in time to discourage myself from playing.  I would encourage my younger self to keep at it.  To focus on the red dot zipping down the line.  To step into the pitch.  To follow through.  To run like the devil was on my heels, to reach a first base that I never had the joy of stepping on.  To line up under the pop fly and reach up to pick it out of the air.  To attempt that crucial throw to second base to catch the runner.

I don’t have children, but if I did…I would want them to play baseball.  In the crisp breeze of spring to the gnawing, orange-and-yellow wind of autumn.  To feel the thrill of the ball smacking into the leather of the mitt.  To be amazed by the crack of the bat against the ball.  To see that ball sail over the glove of the second baseman.  To slide into home plate to beat the frantic throw to the catcher, to try making that play that gives their team that chance to win.

To win.  Or lose.

But more importantly: to live life.  To enjoy playing the game that I enjoy watching now from a distance.

Over nine innings.

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