Posted by Brian Kingman, November 2010
“Baseball is like church. Many attend but few understand.”
“Do not save your loving speeches
For your friends till they are dead;
Do not write them on their tombstones,
Speak them rather now instead.
— Anna Cummins
After playing in this year’s MSBL World Series in Phoenix, there is one common characteristic that I think would be surprising to those who hear about a bunch of aging men playing baseball in the middle of the desert.
I am sure they would expect that a good time was had by all, but they would probably focus more on the results. Their first question would likely be: “Did you win?” closely followed by “How did you do?”
But something greater than just the games takes place. What is it?
It is the quality of the experience that transcends the game itself.
Here are some examples of what I mean, from emails shared by some of my teammates:
“What’s the most difficult week of the year? The week you come back to reality after the best week of the year in Phoenix! When else but at this tournament do you get to act like a 10 year old, but are able to drive and drink (not at the same time, of course)? I thank all of you for giving up family/vacation time to help me live out my ‘fantasy.’”
“As I was flying home today, I was asked by the person sitting next to me on the plane what I was in Phoenix for. I began to explain about the World Series, and they asked how we did. When I said we lost 3-2 in the semifinals. They said “Oh, I am sorry to hear that.” I said “Thanks,” and went on to talk about our team. By the time we were finished, the person said “Now I know why you don’t look sad, it sounds like the guys you play with are great.” That said it all for me! This is the most amazing collection of great guys that I have EVER been fortunate enough to call teammates. Thank you for your support when I was going bad and for your high fives when things went well. Thanks for making me laugh so much that my sides ached (my tribute to Felix the Cat) and for bringing tears to my eyes when we all talked about how much we mean to each other.”
“I just finished an extraordinary book about a journalist who followed a platoon for a year in battle in Afghanistan (Sebastian Junger, the same author who wrote Perfect Storm). He discovered that what made these soldiers do extraordinary feats and perform under fire wasn’t amazing courage but love. These soldiers loved their fellow soldiers with such depth of feeling that it never occurred to any one of them not to be there for their brother in arms. That intensity of feeling, of “being alive” makes returning to normalcy of civilian life so very difficult for our soldiers.
“I think Mark touches on a strand of the same theme when he spoke about our having to return from Phoenix. Now, before anyone gets up in arms about my comparing baseball to combat or before Paul makes a gay joke, I want to say that I agree with Mark’s sentiment. I love being with you guys and the intensity of our “combat” brings us so close that I miss it when we are not playing. DTW has allowed me some extraordinary friendships and these trips, whether to Palm Springs or Phoenix, allow me, and I think all of us, to love the baseball, the experience and each other in a way that “normal” life doesn’t allow.
“I find that very rewarding and I want to thank you all for that. “
From Bart Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind”
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the 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. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.
“Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun. “
“Teammates: Upon returning to the real world after our sojourn in the desert I read the above quote and felt it captured my feelings. After a week playing ball in Phoenix with some of my best friends, the cold harshness of the real world is a poor substitute. But the good news is that baseball, being the constant that it is, will be back….and so will we.”
What great emails!
I think I speak for everyone when I say thanks for not saving your loving speeches until we were dead or writing them on our tombstones. Reading Bart Giamatti’s excerpt from “The Green Fields of the Mind,” you could almost substitute the word “love” in place of “game” or “sports.” You could easily say that love was designed to break your heart, and for many of us baseball was our first love. We were infatuated with it at a very young age and it was a big part of our lives. But like any relationship there are ups and downs, complications, sacrifices and disappointments.
Some become discouraged and give up on the game, but most of us, those of us who are still playing, seem to be seeking the same thing as Giamatti when he says:
” I need to think something lasts forever,and it might as well be that state of being that is a game.”
Ah, Man’s quest for the eternal!
How can you describe that state of being that is a game? If a picture is worth a thousand words describing an emotion might take 100,000 – but I will try to restrain myself. As with any description it will vary from person to person but here’s my view:
I once read that ‘Only in games is Man truly free, because he is the creator, having made and thus understanding the rules.” So in games Man understands the meaning of his endeavors and his individual significance, something we seem to struggle with in the real world.
Look at how happy children are when they are playing. Play time is a magical time, a time of enjoyment and total absorption in an activity were nothing else seems to matter. A separate reality is created where time stands still, as if it didn’t exist. This timeless existence, ever so brief allows us a flirtation with eternity.
Add to the mix the camaraderie of great teammates working towards and contributing to a common goal and you have something special on and off the field. New friends are made and old friends are reunited, old memories are remembered and new ones created.
As for the really tough among us, those who can live without illusion, it has been said that life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal. Maybe it is because the “really tough’ know we are eternal and it isn’t an illusion after all. Some find a link to the eternal through religion or spirituality and in baseball there are elements of both.
“A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.” Playing baseball for me is like going home once again. Surrounded by the familiar, looking back from the mound and seeing a teammate of forty years at shortstop and a teammate of over thirty five years playing first base can give you the illusion of immortality. After a few beers even the sense that it is an illusion is gone.
Our time together is magical but unfortunately comes to an end all too soon.
A year may pass before we do it all again, but what is a year among the eternal? Until we meet again…