The Paradox of Baseball

Saturday I attended my first professional baseball game in the last two years. The weather was perfect. The seats (first row along the first-base line) nearly so. It was a triple-A, not a major league game, but I was surprised by the quality of play. The star, who emptied the bases with his double to the base of the wall in right-center and drove in five of the six runs scored by our hometown team, the Indianapolis Indians, was a catcher who had just been sent down by the Pirates.

The game, which lasted about two and a half hours or more, confirmed for me what I already knew: there are few things in life that can be as boring and as exciting as a baseball game.

Your grandmother may beg to differ, Vera. She isn’t bothered by the slow pace. But she keeps score, logging every pitch. I suppose that helps. I, on the other hand, get antsy.

I took a walk around the stadium in the sixth, returning to my seat for the seventh-inning stretch. I didn’t keep score, but if I had I bet I would have discovered that the moments of excitement represented a very small portion of the total game time. The vast majority of the time was consumed by uneventful strikes and balls, foul balls, ground outs, routine fly balls, and pitching changes.

Yet I am reminded by the countless games that I watched your dad play when he was a kid. It’s funny how I never thought they were boring.

Your dad was a really good ball player. He was an all-star for his age from his first year in t-ball to his last when he was a teenager. But that said, I doubt all the games were as exciting as I remember them. He didn’t win every game as a pitcher and didn’t get on base every time as a batter. But it was exciting. Because he was our boy. And he was having fun. And he was good. And he was our boy. Did I mention that?

Last night a runner on second took third on a fly ball hit to right. It took me back to my childhood. I remarked to your grandmother that the runner would have been out if Roberto Clemente was in right. But then I corrected myself, for if Clemente had been playing right the runner would not have even tried to take third. Clemente was that good. He had a cannon for an arm.

But even Clemente didn’t get on base every time. Or throw every runner out. Or catch every ball hit to right. Or never have an error. (Despite what my memory tells me about the only hero I’ve ever had in life.) But boy could he excite the crowd by doing things that no one else could.

Baseball is like that. Now and then, amidst the boredom and routine innings and outs, excitement breaks through. The spectacular occurs. And you stand amazed by what you witness, whether it’s an incredible throw, or masterful changeup for a strike out with the bases loaded, a towering home run to center, or whatever. Just like life.

Life is punctuated by exciting — indeed, thrilling — moments. They make the mundane bearable, particularly for someone like me who gets easily bored and who hates repetition and routine. But every moment can’t be exciting or spectacular. That’s not how life works. We are left to find satisfaction and meaning in the midst of the ordinariness of the every day.

And so I’ll probably return to the ballpark, in part because your grandmother loves it. But also because of how it makes me feel, including the memories it stirs, whether it be of my Pittsburgh Pirates or that little boy who ran like lightning, could strike out the best hitters, and who could beat out a ground ball and also crush the ball over the fence.

That little boy is a man now. Instead of running the bases, he’s loving you and teaching you how to navigate life — how to get through the tough times, to set yourself up for the spectacular, and to handle the ordinary and mundane. And I find myself enjoying every day being part of this, whether I’m merely a spectator or am playing the game of life with you directly.

It never gets boring. Because he’s our son and you’re our granddaughter. I suppose when you love someone enough, their mere presence is spectacular.

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