Gary and I went to a little league game this week and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. At our age we don’t even have to know any of the players- it brings back memories just to watch kids hit a ball and run around the bases. Gary commented that sometimes when he was driving his truck in the summer he stopped near a park and watched a game just to feel like he was participating in a normal pastime. And what could be more normal or American or comforting in times of stress than baseball?
I’ve always had mixed feelings about sports. We spend SO much time, money, effort, and media attention on sports, while academics make do with whatever moments and pennies are leftover. I never was athletic, and other than volleyball, never played on a team by choice. I was hardly anyone else’s choice either, so I suppose the first thing that sports taught me was my physical limitations. Sports also taught me the value of a shared experience. I was always a bit of a loner, preferring my books and thoughts to most other activities. The school’s requirements for physical activity prevented me from being a total recluse. Sports also forced me to solve problems with others and rely on another person’s skills. Anyone who is “type A” or even a bit OCD doesn’t need an explanation of how that affected my life. I didn’t even like group projects in the classroom, much less on the court.
Even though I could expound more on the pros and cons of being an athlete, the major impact of young kids playing games is really on the parents. Parents have always supported their little competitors in whatever ways they could- time, money, encouragement. Despite the requirements of home and jobs and church and civic duties, parents usually manage to be on that bench or bleacher when the whistle blows and the scoreboard lights up. Nowadays it seems even more of a sacrifice when parents often have two or more children in two or more sports. And the motivation for being in attendance is based on more than parental pride and moral support. There is big money in sports and everyone hopes their child will be the beneficiary of it, either in the form of scholarships or a future paycheck. The odds might be against their young athlete being in the one percent of the one percent who actually profit from their chosen sport, but that’s what makes the dream exciting- beating the odds.
A ballgame is also a perfect opportunity for observing and studying human behavior. The bleachers are a microcosm of the local community and often a reflection of how we’re dealing with other aspects of life. I overheard a few disagreements about the management of the teams and the game, some snippets of local gossip, and lots of commiserating over parenting and school and finances. There was the quintessential “sports dad” giving far too much advice through gritted teeth. There was a smiling grandmother offering solace when the bat and ball didn’t connect as planned. There was a young mother holding her breath and fighting to keep silent when she thought for a moment that her son was hurt. There was an obviously exhausted woman trying to just survive the game and go home for a quick dinner and some much deserved rest. If local politicians want to understand their communities they would do well to spend more time at ballgames than at meetings.
Gary and I are planning to attend another game this week. We’ll have fun recalling the days when our own children ran around the bases, but mostly we’ll just enjoy watching anyone do it.