A Night at the Ballpark

I have experienced some amazing baseball games in my life. I’ve seen heroic hits (Werth’s 13 pitch at-bat and subsequent Walk off HR in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS) and historic meltdowns (Drew Storen and the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS). I’ve seen World Series Wins (Red Sox at Fenway in Game 6 of the 2013 World Series) and even a Perfect Game (Matt Cain in 2012).

I’ve seen hundreds of hit-less innings and innings filled with nothing but hits. I’ve seen baseball games end in ties. I’ve attended exhibition games and old timers’ games. I’ve seen games at every level of play – attending games at the start of Spring and deep into the Fall. I’ve waited out rain outs and wished at times for nothing but rain. I’ve attended countless games as a son and even more as a father.

I’ve eaten more hot dogs than I dare try to count.

But these are not the things that make baseball what it is. What truly sets baseball apart – what makes baseball America’s Pastime – is not what takes place on the field, in all of the innumerable games that happen over the course of a season, but rather what happens in the stands. It is the stories that are exchanged between a boy and his father. It is the peanuts that are passed between a father and his daughter. It is the beer and soda spilled when jumping for that foul ball that never quite reaches you. It is the smell of new leather from the fresh mitt on the hand of a boy at his very first game and the smell of old leather from the mitt resting on his father’s lap. It is the hot dogs passed down the aisle and the cash passed backed up. It is the smell of cotton candy. It is the bags of Cracker Jack pitched several aisles over by vendors as they work their way up the stands. It is the yell of “Cold Beer” and “Last Call.” It is standing for the National Anthem and applauding soldiers who have recently returned home. It is the cheering of Sausages in Milwaukee or presidents in Washington DC.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, boys never grow up and baseball reminds us of this. As fans settle into their seats and the players take the field, that boy in every man is reawakened. Baseball is America’s Pastime because it allows us to dream and there is nothing quite so American as dreaming big dreams. Baseball is America’s Pastime because of what happens between the innings – not during them.

Last night I went to the Washington National’s game against the Angels. I had four tickets in my regular seats and decided to make a guys’ night out of it. The weather was perfect and as we settled into our seats and the players took the field we made that all too familiar transformation. We talked about “grown-up things” but dreamed big dreams and crafted bucket lists. We talked of mountains climbed and ones that remained yet unclimbed – both the physical and spiritual varieties.

We nodded and laughed and listened.

The game ended and we each went our separate ways. Back to adulthood. More willing perhaps than when we arrived because we each quietly knew that we only needed to return to a diamond somewhere – anywhere – to once again find that boy in each of us.