Being There: An Ode to Baseball

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Being There: An Ode to Baseball
Sandy Koufax pitching his perfect game against the Chicago Cubs, Sept. 9, 1965.

You have dreamed of this moment before you bought your ticket. Indeed, it was the thought of buying the ticket that was the germinating seed of this dream. You have a smile on your face, because you know that you are about to witness a historical, traditional, rarified love...a baseball game. 

Maybe you are with your wife. Maybe you are with your kids. Maybe you are with a bunch of your rowdy friends and you can't wait to get in the stands to be rowdy with the rest of your "friends" who all root for the same team. Maybe, like myself, you even go alone because once you get there, you are not alone. 

Whichever is the case, you're ecstatic. The feeling of joy intensifies as you pass through the gate, handing off the ticket to your dreams. The collective hope and joy is all around in the buzz of the stadium and you can feel the immensity of it. 

Then it happens. You have checked your ticket for where you will be sitting then as the concrete walkways and walls give way you look through the first section that you come upon and there it is: The diamond.

Lush and green, with white lines, four bases and a fence that defines the game. It is as if you have walked into a temple. Depending on your perspective, if it is in line with mine, you have. 

We come and unconsciously worship the ghosts of legend. Conjuring up the spirit of those who have come before us and laid the groundwork for this amazing tradition. We do this because we understand that without Babe Ruth, there's no Roger Maris nor Mark McGwire.

Vin Scully calling Sandy Koufax's perfect game.

Likewise, we understand emphatically that without Josh Gibson there is no Jackie Robinson and that we would have surely missed out on the greatness of Willie and Hank. Furthermore, without the courageous spirit of Branch Rickey, we couldn't enjoy it together, as one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 

When we are truly in the spirit of the legacy of love called baseball this unconscious worship of legend plants the seed in our collective consciousness that asks, who will be the next legend whose name will be inscribed on the consciousness of future generations? What amazing feat has yet to materialize in this game that will be enshrined in the hearts of those unborn? Will it happen today? While I'm here? 

Thus, you run, quickly—so as not to miss a thing—to buy your traditional beer, dog, Cracker Jack, maybe some fries, never minding the ridiculous cost because...it's baseball.

Upon finding your section, row and seat you squeeze in with 40,000 other folks, the vast majority of which are of the "casual fan" variety. You pay them no mind, because you know that you are in the vast minority of men, women and children that actually "get it." 

Yes, you are of the other variety of fans. You're like the elder guy two rows ahead of you that listens to the game on his handheld radio, or like his wife sitting next to him who owns a book of scorecards and is currently going through passed games that she has kept score of. 

Vin Scully still in the booth 60 years later.

You are the fan that nobody understands. They ask, why do fans do such things like listen to the game on the radio, or keep score, or never leave their seat from the first pitch to the last and get annoyed when people want to talk at the most critical stage of the game? 

But imagine what it would have been like if you were able to be in the stadium behind home plate the day that Sandy Koufax pitched arguably the greatest perfect game in the history of baseball. Imagine what it would have been like to be at that game, with a scorecard, to record the moment so that you could frame it and pass it down through your family.

Even more, imagine if you could have been at the game and heard Vin Scully calling those last 6 strikeouts of Koufax's legendary moment. Priceless.

It is the sound of the bat, the awaiting of the next pitch like the next breath in meditation, the "head game" of trying to out think the person that stands before you and strategizing ways to manipulate your opponent into losing. It is fans who all of a sudden become coaches and writers that live as trickster critics.

It is the long legacy that got us here and the beauty of people from around the world coming to the United States to play this game as this is the stage of the embodiment of the greatest game on earth.

It is "the catch," "the shot heard around the world," 100+ years of baseball futility for the Chicago Cubs and 27 championships for the Yankees. It is "Teddy Ballgame" and the legend of .406 and Satchel Paige pitching three innings of shutout baseball at the age of 59.

Joe Carter after his world series winning homerun

It is the legend of Josh Gibson hitting a game winning home run in Pittsburgh that landed in the glove of an opposing player the next day in Washington. It is another Gibson, Bob, who managed to average allowing a measly 1.12 earned runs per 9 innings in 1968. 

It is yet another Gibson, Kirk, fist pumping on two bad legs around second base after a game winning home run against Dennis Eckersley. 

It is Joe Carter's World Series winning home run, the summer of '98, Curt Schilling's debated bloody sock and the Red Sox shocking the world to come back from a three game deficit to the Yankees only to sweep my beloved Cardinals in the World Series.

And, yes...it is the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, as much as it is the Dodgers/Giants, Cubs/Cardinals and every team vs. the Yankees. 

It is myth, legend, lore, statistics, hall of fame credentials and potential, endless debates about the who's, what's and why's and above all...it is about the game...and you wouldn't want to miss any moment of it. 

Yes, you get it. You understand that as Dan Millman learned in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior that, "There are no ordinary moments" and that at any given moment...the extraordinary could happen. You realize that this may be the moment that you get to tell your friends and family of the experience of being there. 

Roy Halladay's no-hitter in first post-season appearance.

After all, you know, baseball is love. Baseball is a reflection of life. Maybe you relate with the batter that digs his feet in knowing that best in the game only get a hit 3.5 times out of 10, and as he grips the bat with the intention of helping his team toward victory, he understands that it is him against nine guys and the odds of winning are slimmer than the odds of success. Do you feel like him sometimes? 

Maybe in this mirror of life you feel like the pitcher who stares down that very same batter knowing that he has an arsenal of weaponry to slim that guys chances of getting a hit even more. Beyond that, maybe as you relate with the pitcher, you realize that you have a supporting cast of family and friends who have "got your back"—literally. 

Baseball is beautiful, isn't it? Here you are with thousands of other people that you don't know from anywhere, that you may have passed on the street and didn't recognize, and the common thread that is bringing you together at this moment in history is this amazing game played inside (and outside) the lines.  

Indeed, this beautiful sport has nearly everything that life offers; passion, intelligence, philosophy, athletic agility, camaraderie, love, compassion, magic, hatred (of the Red Sox, Yankees and their fans, ha!), hope, promise, integration, humility, entertainment and escape from the worldly politics into the politics of the game. Sure it misses in some areas, but even the perfect game isn't "perfect" (Sandy threw a wild pitch that sent his hat flying in that last inning). 

So, you sit there, awaiting the first pitch, not thinking about the last, watching with the understanding that being there is an event all to itself.

Whether you are at the stadium or even at home watching it on TV or listening on the radio, as you focus your energies sharply, baseball's truth springs into your awareness and you are quite metaphorically in the game. 

And that, my friends, is a beautiful place to be. That...is a dream materialized. 

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