Major League Baseball spring training started today. I sat on my porch, listening to a radio. And I was cheering. I mean genuinely cheering.
The Atlanta Braves play the Tampa Bay Rays. The national anthem was played. The umpire used his time-ravaged voice to shout, “Play ball!” I couldn’t help but get excited because it’s been a long year. Too long.
I closed my eyes and visualized the players trotting onto the grass of LECOM Park, greeted by their fans. I could almost see the Dads drinking beer, kids eating nachos, and teenagers taking selfies.
In the theater of my mind the game played beautifully. I could even visualize the occasional kid leaning over the balcony to catch a foul ball—which is one of the great moments of boyhood.
I almost caught a foul-tip once in Fulton County Stadium as a boy. I’ll never forget it. The ball came soaring into the stands and I knew this was my moment. Time slowed down. The eyes of 52,000 were upon me. I stood beneath the ball. I waved everyone else away.
“I got it!” I shouted. “Gimme room! I got it!”
This was going to be the biggest day of my life. I extended my Mickey Mantle model glove into the air—a mitt my father bought from a yardsale for $1. The ball came down, down, down… “Hey!” I thought, “I’m actually going to catch it!”
But it was not to be.
The ball bounced off the webbing of my glove and landed in the lap of a kid behind me. I heard the lucky bum scream with delight. “I caught it!”
I saw the kid leap. I heard people cheer. The crowd hoisted the kid onto their shoulders for a spontaneous ticker tape parade and the mayor gave him the key to the city.
I still have nightmares about that kid.
Baseball’s spell over me is something I can’t explain. After all, baseball is not real life. The game doesn’t have anything to do with my mortgage, my work, or my family. And yet I treat baseball like it ranks somewhere just beneath national security.
Why do I care so much about the statistics of clean-up hitters whose performances have no bearing on my immediate future unless, of course, it’s a pennant race?
The answer is: I don’t know. Believe me, if I knew how to free myself from loving this game, I would. Lord knows the game brings nothing but misery and heartburn to those who love it.
There is no pain like watching your team lose to the Cardinals 13-1 in the National League Championship. It feels like a funeral, but with cheaper beer.
I ought to be more concerned about important things during a trying era like ours. Instead I spend time and money keeping up with multimillion-dollar team franchises. Yes! Baseball costs actual money to follow!
It’s not cheap to be a fan these days. Used to, in olden times all you needed was a radio and a cooler. But today to watch a game you need a digital subscription, a smart TV, 12,981 account usernames and passwords, a streaming service, two major credit cards, liquid fast internet, three forms of legal identification, the blood of a wild boar, etc.
Even so, I don’t care. The game is still being played. And in the midst of a pandemic that has destroyed normal life for everyone, the game inflames me with joy.
Baseball is a link to our heritage. People have been playing baseball on U.S. soil since colonist farmers in knee breeches still spoke with British accents. Early Americans used sacks of wheat for bases and iron skillet lids for home plate. In all likelihood, George Washington probably had a batting average.
My best baseball memory, however, happened last year.
Every afternoon last summer, during the throes of a pandemic, four or five neighbor children would play ball in our dirt road, pausing every inning to allow oncoming cars to pass. They used old pillows for bases and a cooler lid for home plate.
Most often the kids would have a meager audience consisting of middle-aged parents and neighbors who all cradled koozies. We in the crowd would shout phrases like, “Good hustle!” and we’d slow-clap between each batter to prove that we were male.
Sometimes the kids even allowed a few of us neighborhood guys to play with them. Doctors say the cartilage of my knee will never grow back.
Anyway, one night someone hit a foul ball and someone’s 4-year-old brother was nearby shouting, “I got it!” The little white dot sailed above the child who held his hands out and positioned himself beneath the ball.
The baseball came straight down and plunked the boy on the face. The kid fell lifeless to the ground. He was limp. A crowd of panicked adults rushed around him, whereupon the kid leapt to his feet, teeth missing, blood leaking from his chin, smiling and shouting, “I CAUGHT IT, MOM!”
And I’ll never forget when the kid’s mother looked at me, expressionless, and said, “This is why women live longer than men.”
So I realize there are more important things going on in the world right now. And I know there are bigger issues than baseball to worry about. But it’s been a grueling year filled with squabbling, screaming, rioting, grumbling, coughing, cussing, and crying.
Gosh, it feels nice to cheer for a change.
Bob E - March 1, 2021 7:24 am
Look forward to reading you every day.
Let’s keep cheering for something…anything.
Leigh Amiot - March 1, 2021 11:51 am
My goodness, yes, cheers to good distractions!
Gardening is that for me…when I’m immersed in it, nary a thought of a pandemic crosses my mind.
Sandi. - March 1, 2021 11:56 am
Amen to what Bob E said!
Harriet - March 1, 2021 12:04 pm
I agree with Bob.
Ann Padgett - March 1, 2021 12:58 pm
And this is why I read your column almost every day, Sean. Among other reasons, reading your mini-stories help me to laugh with pure joy, weep good tears, admire, think, and learn to better understand males.😄🥲🤩🧐🥴
Julie - March 1, 2021 1:00 pm
Scientifically, Baseball prompts the activity of Cheering prompts Endorphins prompts Pleasure. By all means, Sean…watch or listen to more games, and be sure to CHEER loudly, with lots of jumping up and down! The more actively, the better!! Keep those Endorphins pumping!!
To each his own…do whatever activity you enjoy, and you will feel good, too!
P.S. Go StL Cardinals❤️ (Or whoever’s playing the Cubs)
Vicki Parnell - March 1, 2021 1:04 pm
Sean, my baseball obsession began because of my dad. I was Daddy’s girl and followed him everywhere. He coached little league in an era that I could only be the score keeper, so that’s what I was. The only major league problem was that he was an Astros fan. I wish he could have lived long enough to see them win the World Series.
Dean - March 1, 2021 1:38 pm
We all need something to cheer for these days.
My enjoyment is getting to see my family and especially my great grandsons. They are my sunshine
Phil (Brown Marlin) - March 1, 2021 1:51 pm
I can almost hear Harry Caray leading the Cub fans in that great old song…
and the anthem being played and then the ump saying “PLAY BALL!”
DALTON SULLIVAN - March 1, 2021 1:52 pm
I am a 63 yo man living in Alabama, and I have had the same illness since I was four or five. Baseball marks time. It transcends generations. I have passed my love for the game to my sons just as my dad and grandpa did to me.
I Sat in front of the TV yesterday afternoon and cheered wildly as my Cardinals scored two in the ninth to tie Washington 4-4. During that three hours, covid was non-existent, world troubles were a distant memory. For those three hours the world was perfect.
I do love baseball
didyouseethis - March 1, 2021 2:19 pm
I’ll tell you why I love baseball in spite of all the frustrations…because it’s about getting home…safe.
Katherine D Jones - March 1, 2021 3:58 pm
Play Ball! And BRAVO, Sean! Yes, ball playing addicton IS just one of the reasons that women live longer than men, but only one of the reasons!. .. All part of the grand design.
Mo Theriault - March 1, 2021 4:45 pm
Sean, I laughed out loud at Mom’s comment. I can just see her face. Thanks for making my morning.
Linda Moon - March 1, 2021 6:01 pm
I’ll never forget it. Those are four beautiful words to describe memories. Why concern yourself about the “important” stuff in the world, Sean? What in the world could be more important than YOU? A wise-acre brother-in- law often said something wise to me (“Uma”)…..”Ain’t nobody gonna take care of little Uma but little Uma”. It’s often turned out to be true, even with good people in my life. It’s called SELF-CARE, and It’s not always easy. You make me cheer, Sean Dietrich. And Jamie makes me cheer, too….sometimes even more than you do. It’s a woman thing. Tell her “Uma” said that! Cheers.
MAM - March 1, 2021 8:18 pm
The mom”s comment to you had me laughing out loud, too!! Thanks for a good laugh today. Needed that!
Suzanne Moore - March 1, 2021 9:50 pm
Great essay, Sean! I will surely share this one with my husband. He will love it!
Blake - March 2, 2021 1:54 am
We are a house divided. I’ve been a Braves fan since the 90’s and my wife and son are both Cardinals fans. Our son loves baseball and plays as hard as he can. Baseball is a calming sport for me. Except for last season, we will take a couple of “9 inning vacations” and go watch the Memphis Redbirds. It’s just relaxing. Even when the game gets exciting.
Christina - March 2, 2021 6:21 am
It’s the little joys in life that keeps us going.
Pondcrane - March 2, 2021 7:53 pm
Amen, Brother Sean
Charaleen Wright - March 3, 2021 4:54 pm