Baseball is just a game. Many have romanticized the game from its legendary beginning on the Elysian Fields through the present, yet it remains nothing more than a group of people choosing sides and following rules that have rarely changed in over a hundred and fifty years.
They pitch a ball from 60 feet 6 inches away, run around a diamond with bases 90 feet apart, and do this 9 times apiece – if necessary. Yet baseball, despite what makes it the same, is always different. Every single night. More than any other sport every night on diamonds throughout the country moments are connected to another previous night in the sport, or a night 30 years ago, or a night yet to come.
Beyond that baseball can often connect to life in ways that we can’t always comprehend in the moment. Yet looking at our ultimate box score we see how it was intertwined all along. Let me tell you my story about how baseball taught me about moving physically, growing mentally, and brought me right back where I started in the end.
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Two years ago my wife and I set out to Oregon from San Diego. San Diego where we had met, gotten married, and had built deep friendships and memories throughout America’s Finest City. I had held season tickets for a couple of years to Petco Park and was sad to leave all the memories associated with it. The exciting opening year in 2004, the playoff years (for newer fans yes, the Padres have made the playoffs not so long ago!), the 16 inning walk Memorial Day 2011, making the big screen playing Friar Feud, and the Khalil Greene grand slam of ’05, Trevor Time and even the meteor know as Heath Bell. Time to start over in a new town.
Baseball has long held an ability to connect outside boundaries that normally divide us. Look to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier as example 1, but baseball can even transcend politics. Heal a hurting country, like the New York game after September 11th.
Baseball also connects families. I’m fortunate to share memories of playing baseball with my dad growing up, often sitting him on his butt after a fastball that zigged when it should’ve zagged. This summer we watched Ken Griffey Jr, forever “The Kid”, thank his dad in particular as he made his Hall of Fame induction speech:
"“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game – but more importantly, he taught me how to be a man. How to work hard. How to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day, and not to worry about what other people are doing…. I was born five months after his senior year, and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that’s what men do.” – Ken Griffey Jr"
Continuing the life cycle, just as in life we have different phases of re-birth whether that be professionally, personally, or relationally, you see rebirth in baseball all the time. Clayton Richard, once traded to the Padres for their best pitcher in 20 years – Jake Peavy – whose career stalled due to injury and was completely out of baseball for nearly two years. Now he has resurfaced, come back to the Padres and could very well be fighting for a rotation spot in 2017.
Former #1 Draft Pick Josh Hamilton, who destroyed his life due to drugs, was completely out of baseball and left to be labeled a high profile bust. Then he re-appeared with a new attitude on life, a plan to stay sober, and put on one of the greatest Home Run Derby shows in the final All Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium. Speaking of ghosts, you can bet Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle were watching that show. Baseball is a story of constant through history, of redemption and rebirth.
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. – Field of Dreams"
This year I was able to head back to San Diego for the All Star Game. The game that Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, should’ve been the main event for. The event showcased everything great about San Diego, the Padres, Petco Park, and baseball won the day.
In our time in Oregon we have explored the amazing scenery and settled into some great new friendships, which aren’t as easy to make as you get older. We have been fortunate to have many visitors because true friendships don’t easily fade. They change in some ways, but in other ways they just naturally ferment into something greater than you even realized you had to begin with. I value relationships heavily but they also take time and intentionality. You have to realize that you aren’t perfect and neither are other people. Finding the middle ground without sacrificing those imperfections is when real friendship begins.
"Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World Series catch, and then dashing off to play stickball in the street with his teenage pals. That’s baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying, ‘I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.'” – Ernie Harwell"
Baseball and life are not perfect. There is a trade-off for every choice that we make, and baseball illustrates the good and the bad for us. From the pure joy of a “Buster-hug” after winning the World Series, to the look of Dennis Eckersley after allowing a Kirk Gibson in ’88. Yes Mr. Vin Scully, the impossible has happened. Again and again throughout baseball history. from Fred Snodgrass in 1912, to Dave Roberts stealing a base in the 2004 ALCS when everyone knew he was going to and helping the Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918.
As we near our two year mark in Oregon it also coincides with my birthday. Nothing like a birthday to look around and see the concrete passage of time and be thankful for the relationships and series of small events that have brought you to that point. After spending a weekend in Nashville with friends – some of whom I’ve known since 7th grade – I had asked a new Oregon friend about getting a group together for the minor league team in Eugene. He was able to get me on the field to throw out the first pitch! Certainly on my list of life goals!
The connections we make in life we often don’t plan, and we can’t predict their outcome. Could we predict that when Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard Round the World” to win the pennant for the Giants – it was one of the greatest players of all time Willie Mays on deck? Or that when Hank Aaron set the all time home run record in 1974 – the man in the dugout Dusty Baker would manage the man(Barry Bonds) who would break his record 33 years later?
We can’t predict what moments in our life will end up having implications far beyond that moment. When I decided to head down to a bonfire at La Jolla Shores in 2003 and decided to talk to the girl rocketing a football through the night air who would end up being my wife.
Change is never as hard or complicated as you think it will be – until you actually go for it. Too often people get stuck in what is safe and comfortable and never even take that chance.
So sure, baseball is just a game, but to leave it there would be a disservice to all that comes with it. Life is just a series of unconnected moments…until they start connecting. When I threw that first pitch the other night – a strike by the way – the opponent was the Padres own minor league affiliate. Full circle. Let’s let Yogi Berra close it out in the way only Yogi Berra can:
"Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” – Yogi Berra"