Playing catch in the backyard was simple, pure, and carefree. Baseball was simply the avenue to a back and forth relationship. No one cared if you threw the ball over dad’s head or if the ball popped out of your mitt when mom threw it back. No coaches, no scouts, no pressure, just the two of us and a cool summer breeze.
Then, you could be whomever you wanted. Assume the role of any big league hero. Announce your name as you stepped up to the plate. Wag your bat like Sheffield. Crouch like Bagwell. We’ve all been there. We all wish we could go back. But we can’t. Because time passes, people age, and the beautiful game of baseball gets harder and harder.
Opponents get bigger and stronger. 80 MPH fastballs that used to make you shiver in your 14 year old boots are considered child’s play. Athletic Darwinism rears its ugly head as you fall victim to your genetic limits. Hustle only differentiates you from the pack if what you want is a couple of looks and a pat on the back. Hard work, determination, and effort only get you so far. A swing and a miss is still a swing and a miss, no matter how hard you swing.
Once you’ve outgrown the game, you can watch it, you can read about it, you can fully immerse yourself in its complexities and intricacies. Analyze, scrutinize, memorize all you want, but nothing really replaces the game itself. The pop a glove makes as it comforts the blow of a blistering fastball. The tears that well up in your eyes when your slide throws dirt into your face. The desire to succeed, the drive to get to that base before the god damn’ed ball does. I anticipate a yearning for the field where a confusing game becomes easy so that a normal little boy like me can understand it’s ancient language.
I’m almost 18. I’ll be going to college in August. And I’m staring the possible end of my 15 year baseball career dead in the eyes.
To say that this bothers me is an understatement. To give up something that has accompanied you through the years. Baseball was there when I threw tantrums in kindergarten, it was there when my voice started to drop, and it was definitely there as I turned into a man.
Its a terrifying prospect, but its one that everyone goes through. I don’t care if you are Jake Mintz or Mickey Mantle or Barry Bonds. At some point everyone hangs em up. Difference is, I’m just going to end up with less home runs than those guys.
It’s hard to think about never playing another baseball game. But I’ll never really leave the safe haven of the field because it is easy to see what the game has left me. Baseball has given me structure, purpose, and meaning. It has gotten me this far and has given me unforgettable memories that have become a part of who I am. And most importantly it has taught me that sometimes there’s nothing more beautiful than having a catch with dad on a beautiful summer evening.