Thursday, April 5, 2012

This could be the year... a sentiment heard all over America this time of year as we begin another baseball season. I've never been much for New Year's Day, to me its only significance is having to remember to write a different year on my checks. The significance of my own birthdays, except for the ones ending in zero, has also been greatly diminished at least since I turned 25, a long time ago. These days I usually have to stop and think how old I am.

But Opening Day is different. The slate is truly wiped clean, all the transgressions of the past are forgotten, well almost, and the stats for every player and every team are exactly the same, that is to say, zero. This is the time of year when - OK say it along with me:

Hope springs eternal.

One might think this would be an especially optimistic time in Chicago as both our major league baseball teams have new field managers, and in the case of the Cubs, an entirely new, track tested front office. Strangely enough however, this year most Chicago fans are philosophical, they have great hopes for the future of their beloved teams, but not necessarily for this season.

Still it's a brand new day. 'Tis the season for new life and renewal, the time of spring cleaning and getting rid of our excess baggage. They say that baseball is a metaphor for life, and this time of year it couldn't be more true.

It took me nearly fifty years to realize that baseball was far more than just the Major Leagues and my favorite team, the White Sox. Since my son the Cubs fan, (who incidentally shares his first name with the new boss of his team), became passionate about the game, my life at this time of the year revolves around baseball almost as much as his. I'm now an assistant coach of the Warren Park Cardinals Little League team. It is an awesome responsibility that I don't take lightly. Now, my own baseball playing experience is limited. I never played Little League baseball , just lots of softball, mostly the Chicago (no gloves) version of the game. Still that doesn't prevent me from contributing my two cents on fielding, hitting and baserunning. My creaky old joints mean I can't show them how to properly field a ground ball, giving me the excuse to tell them: "do as I say, not as I do" - not letting on to the fact that even in my prime I never was able to properly field a ground ball.

The part of the job I take most seriously is teaching the kids to play fair, be good sportsmen, respect the umps (even when they make bad calls), to love the game, and to have fun. Fortunately our head coach and all of our parents are on the same page, and up to this point it's been a great experience for both my son and me.

The funny thing about playing or coaching sports is that it puts the whole notion of team loyalty in a different light. Of course you root for your kid's team, but every other team has kids just like yours. How can you not root for any kid who's giving his or her all to make a play or run out a hit?

There was a widely publicized play in a ball game a few years ago that puts everything into perspective. With two runners on base and the team at bat down 2-0, the batter hit the ball over the fence. After making the turn at first, the batter stumbled and fell, tearing an ACL. The rules state that in order for a home run to be credited,  the batter must round the bases, touching all three and then home plate. As the injured player hugged first base unable to stand, the first base coach and manager asked the ump if teammates could assist the player around the bases. The umpire correctly interpreted the rules saying that any interference from a teammate would result in an automatic out. But there is no rule in baseball that prevents players on the opposing team to help. Which is exactly what they did. Two members of the opposing team carried their opponent around the bases making sure each base and home plate were touched by the foot of the stricken player.

You might guess this didn't take place during a big league baseball game. You would be right. This incredible act of sportsmanship took place during a playoff game between the Central Washington and Western Oregon University women's softball teams.

Sara Tucholsky was the batter. With the help of her opponents she would score what proved to be the winning run, and be credited for the one and only home run of her career. The two players who carried Sara around the bases were Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace. Holtman and Wallace's act of selflessness cost their team the game and perhaps the championship.  But they became heros in ways that winning a mere championship could never have.

You gotta love this game.

Now let's play some ball.

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