He was a fearsome dynamo when he took the mound. The winning pitcher for the Colorado Springs City All Star Team in 1964, he was offered a scholarship by Arizona State University for his hurtling prowess. In the end, he turned it down to marry the love of his life.
I remember warm spring days at the ball field, cheering him on as he dove across the field for a startling play at short-stop. Even in his late 20’s, physical safety ranked second to snagging that ball.
He taught me, blonde pigtails bobbing, how to whip my arm and “throw like a boy.” He helped coach my Little League team and swelled with pride, and a little smirk, when I stepped up to bat. The boys eased in from the outfield when they saw a girl. I nailed it over their heads.
I fell in love with the game – fascinated by the mix of intelligence, athleticism, and split second strategy. Most of all, I loved it because my dad loved it.
As soon as my first-born son could sit up at age 6 months, his little body literally quivered with excitement when I rolled a ball across the floor to him, over and over. My dad eagerly encouraged his grandson’s interest.
After my dad’s sudden and most unexpected stroke at age 54, he never let his disabilities keep him from cheering on a grandsons’ game. Whether by wheelchair or hobbling with a cane, he made his way to the sidelines. Now that he is gone, I can’t see him anymore; but I feel him near when one of my sons makes a diving catch.
There is a passion that runs hot through a baseball game, especially as skill increases, like glints of mica in sedimentary rock. Layer upon layer, the innings filter down. Then, there is that shimmering moment, like lightening, like magic.
Last summer, my son Jacob, now 16, played catcher for an entire game on a steaming hot afternoon in Cheyenne, WY. So, we weren’t surprised when he sat the bench for the second game later that evening. The innings sifted like sand and accumulated into a score of 4-6 going into the last inning. With two outs and two runners on base, a shred of hope remained.
Surprised, I realized Jacob stood on-deck (next up to bat), called upon to pinch hit. The batter before him hit a line drive – bases loaded. My son stepped up and dug in his cleats. Every pitch electrified the bench and the crowd as he wrangled the count to 2 strikes and 3 balls. Then, like a silvery streak of mica, he slammed the ball! Two runners crossed the plate and fans danced wildly in the bleachers. Then the outfielder bobbled the ball, and another runner sprinted home! Jacob was thrown out at second, but the damage was done. Our team held the score at 7-6 through the bottom of the inning, and pulled out with a win. The sun barely hovered over the horizon, streaking massive storm clouds mounting to the south. The very air glittered with magic.
My son describes how all his sensory processing zeroed in on the task at hand in Cheyenne. The yelling and screaming of fans, a mere ten feet away, faded. The rest of the field disappeared; and there was only the pitcher, the ball, and the bat in his grip. Muscle memory usurped conscious thought. In life there are those rare and elusive moments of transcendence, fleeting seconds of complete unselfconsciousness; yet all of who we are is fully present. Slivers of time when we escape our weary preoccupation with achievement and comparison to others. Glimpses of freedom when we are simply who we are made to be, fractions of time when we are more than we knew we could be.
In the scope of eternity, I am fully aware that baseball is only a game, a part of this world that is quickly passing away. In light of the suffering and struggle of human life, it seems so insignificant. But, when I remember my dad, leaning over the fence and beaming as I slid across home plate; or imagine the pride and joy he would have felt if he’d been dancing in the bleachers with me in Cheyenne, I wonder – could God possibly feel something similar when He watches us use the gifts He’s placed within us? Could it be that these shimmering moments are but a reflection of God’s pleasure in His creation?
Could it be that just a drop of the delight He felt as He surveyed His world for the first time and exclaimed, “it is good!” courses through our humble veins?