This summer, something strange happened: I became a baseball fan.
I grew up whacking wiffle balls, hitting the rubbery T-stand instead of the ball, and occupying a strange nowhere space. On one side were the girls who wore nail polish from birth and color-coordinated their orthodontic elastics with their outfits and Trapper Keepers. On the other side were the “sluggers” who won respect from the boys for their athletic prowess.
Me? I dabbled in nearly every sport, was just good enough to play on the teams, but never reached a level of competence where I’d be respected for my skills. Once I graduated from junior high and teams no longer were obligated to accept every would-be team member, sports-for-fun turned into sports-the-talented-kids-played. I buried myself in my academics, literature, and music. Sports? Whatever!
Fast forward a few years. Okay, more than a few. 😀
On my travels this summer, I pondered souvenirs for my family. It’s tough to buy gifts for people who are picky and don’t really need anything. I tell you, buying gifts is not at all fun when you see them unused year after year! Then, I heard a passerby make a comment about a baseball cap.
Baseball, hm? My dad likes baseball!
In a flash, an internet search presented me with several possibilities for souvenir shops selling sports mementos. The next day, I traveled on the metro to a gigantic sports complex large enough for a dedicated baseball field.
As fate would have it, I entered precisely as hordes of other metro riders swarmed to the ticket entrances. It was a game day! Cheerful, bright-colored flags, caps, jerseys, and various cheering tools dotted the landscape. I stood for a moment, lost in the swirl of energy. I wish I were going to the game, I thought. What? I asked myself. You don’t like sports.
Three days later, I sat in the outfield bleachers past first base to watch my first professional baseball game in years.
I could tell you that the crowd sang, cheered, applauded, and stamped their feet.
I could tell you that I sat close enough to watch the right fielder make an amazing catch.
I could tell you that the evening sun slanted across the dome and made the grass gleam.
I could tell you that the PR system blared with rollicking music and television cameras roamed the stadium for close-up shots of the seventh-inning break where a couple kisses for the camera.
I could tell you that a young couple in front of me clasped hands, each wearing a jersey of a favorite player, and snuggled each other as they cheered for their team.
But even if I told you all of that, I couldn’t explain to you the strange and new experience inside of me.
There’s an elegance about baseball, especially for the right fielder+ who waits patiently throughout the inning. In an ideal game, he’s* never needed because the pitcher strikes out all of the batters or limits hits to small infield. In an average game, perhaps he makes a few catches here and there…but are they ever spectacular!
As I made more trips to the baseball stadium and watched games streamed online, I saw right fielders fumble a catch, run too slowly, or fail to respond quickly enough to a ball hurtling toward them.
When the catch did occur, it was magnificent. Arm outstretched, glove snapping closed, legs propelling the body in the right direction, and perhaps a dive or slide to punctuate the winning play. Sometimes it resulted in the end of the inning or even a game. One catch snatched a would-be homerun ball. Have you heard of Ichiro Suzuki and his famous laser beam? This guy can throw a ball from the depths of right field…straight to home plate. If you haven’t seen him, you should watch this video.
As I watched the miraculous catch and later re-watched the moment on instant replay, I was struck at the similarity between a right fielder and a HoH in a domestic discipline relationship.
A great right fielder watches, without interfering, while play occurs. A great right fielder doesn’t necessarily expect to be involved in every play–that’s the responsibility of the infielders, especially the pitcher and catcher.
Instead, a great right fielder waits, always ready, to respond to the situation at hand. No one ever announces, “I’m going to hit a ball to right field!” Instead, within a nanosecond, a bat goes flying and a ball rushes straight toward (or not even close) to the right fielder on whom all eyes now rest. A pitcher, usually the focus of the game (no one ever says “starting right fielder” or credits an entire game as a “save” by the right fielder), wipes his brow in relief as the right fielder leaps or dives for the catch.
A right fielder doesn’t do the job for the pitcher or basemen, and he doesn’t strip them of independence. Instead, he is in the background and waiting to be needed. Then he steps in, identifies the problem, and takes swift action.
In the meantime, he does calisthenics, drills, and other preparation to be ready for the moment.
As I swoon over my favorite right fielder, I think to myself, Isn’t that what we all want? Someone to catch us before we fall?
DD. Catching us before we fall.
*In this post, I say “he” when referring to baseball players because I fell in love with men’s professional baseball. Of course women can play baseball, and of course women can be HoHs.
+Center fielders and left fielders are also beloved and worthy members of the team, but I sat next to the right fielder. Therefore, right fielders are sexy. 😀