Play Ball!: An American Spring

Rich Policz

March 1, 2007

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
—A. Bartlett Giamatti

There is no place in the country that is not part of a baseball field. This is not an exaggeration, but rather, a mathematical truth. Baseball is the only sport that is not contained within a set boundary. The field runs to infinity, with ever-diverging foul lines expanding outward. As long as a hitter hits the ball between those lines, no matter how far, it’s all part of the game. What this means is that every part of America, and indeed the world, is part of a baseball field; from the Great Lakes, to the sunny coasts, from the richest mansions to the poorest ghettos, from farmer’s fields to downtown high-rises, from sea to shining sea, from the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam. All are a part of the great game of baseball, and baseball in turn, is a picture of who we are as a people.

The return of baseball from its winter slumber is always an eagerly anticipated event. Baseball has marked the passage of time in my life and in our society. It is passed on through the generations, and it is the stuff of our youthful dreams and our fondest memories. We may change the way we think about it, but we never outgrow it. And even though the game finds itself tangled in various problems from time to time, it always finds a way to remain an underlying heartbeat of our culture.

I fondly recall the spring and summer days playing little league for Mr. Breeden’s Tigers, Mr. Schremp’s Cubs, and finally my Dad’s Braves. I still have my glove. I spent many a summer afternoon playing Home Run Derby or Running Bases with Marc, Andy, and the rest of the neighborhood kids. Rainy afternoons might have found me in Andy’s room playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, replaying the 1960 season or just putting together a team of our favorites. Then, on those summer evenings I’d watch the Indians or listen through the static to KDKA and my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. As I got older my love for watching the game never diminished even as my opportunities to play it did (although my wife still humors me with the occasional game of catch).

Baseball is a game that is passed on through the generations. As I watch the game now with my two-year-old son, I explain the details and quirks to him, even though he may be years from understanding the complexities of the grand game. But he watches (more or less), smiles when I say baseball, and utters the word “ball” from time to time. I try to suppress a smile when my wife scolds him for throwing his toys around like a young fireballing hurler. So it is that the seeds of baseball are planted into our futures.

It’s fitting that baseball is the national pastime because it mirrors our nation’s history. Just as it took years for our country to practice the truth that “all men are created equal,” so it was with baseball before Jackie Robinson fulfilled that same truth. Baseball, like our country, has been blessed with a series of commissioners that have ensured justice and rule of law via procedures and rules that have been long written down with the Madisonian understanding that men are not angels. Above all, the game of baseball is designed to allow conversation, opinion, contemplation, and reflection in between bursts of Herculean effort and blinding speed.

So as the great game begins anew with the promise of spring, every team is a champion, every player an MVP, and only the toils and triumphs of the summer’s game will separate those whose dreams will be realized from those who will be heart-broken. However all that endeavor in the game, from the schoolyards to the prison yards, from the softball leagues to the major leagues, do so in a noble and joyous cause. Besides, in baseball dreams never truly die, they just go to bed for the winter…

Rich Policz is a 1997 graduate of Ashland University and the Ashbrook Scholar Program. He is a freelance writer and the Director of Development at Ashland Christian School.