My son Aedan just got called in from the outfield to practice batting. He has a batting helmet on; he has his bat. His knees are bent; he’s leaning over the plate, and his bat is poised over his shoulder but not resting on his shoulder, never that.
Three swings so far. A fourth pitch from the coach, and he finally makes contact. The ball rolls past second base. If it were a game it would’ve been a base hit if I say so myself. He just made contact again…foul tip. Another hit down the middle, and another. The coach tells him he’s done for now, good job Aedan, head back to the outfield. I think he got six hits total. Did I mention that he’s only four years old? What a handsome boy he is. People tell me he looks just like me, and I take it as a high compliment. Me, I’m the dad on the bleachers surrounded by the mothers of the other players, and I’m scribbling in my journal, wishing I didn’t have to take my eyes off the field in order to write.
It’s a flawless evening. The air is as sweet as the trees are green. It’s been overcast for three days or so, and after a bitter battle, the clouds just now gave up on the sky. It’s simply too big and the sun too golden to shroud for long. I suppose the clouds knew it was time for practice, so they broke up and floated away. It’s breezy, and the air is so perfectly warm and cool at the same time it’s like it’s not even there.
There are probably six fields around us, and from each one the bright green sounds of baseball are lifting toward us; the lulls, the sudden bursts of excitement, the sporadic cheers and whistles in the seconds after a missed pitch. I just strolled over and got a Mountain Dew from the concessions stand for a dollar. One of the kids is pitching a fit, a little fellow named Tylus who was throwing pebbles and got in trouble. This is coach-pitch Little League, and the kids are anywhere from three to five years old, which means that they’re too young to care who’s black and who’s white; too young even to care much about the game that’s being played, a fact that’s evidenced by the way the outfielders are either sitting down or plucking dandelions, or by the way the first baseman runs all the way to right field for a ball and then wrestles with an outfielder over it; don’t worry, they’re both laughing. Aedan’s at third now. His Colorado Rockies hat is pulled down so that his ears are folded over. Another burst of cheers from the field down the hill from us.
So much like life. Lulls for the most part, balanced out by surges of activity, reminding you to pay attention. Watch the ball, wait in left field as ready as you can be, which is hard when swing after swing after hit sends the action everywhere but to where you’re standing, because sooner or later the ball is going to come your way, the ball that carries the weight of the eyes of every person in the place, following its arc, wondering what will happen when it collides with you. The analogy between life, even spiritual life, and sports is far from new, but it’s a good one.
I can close my eyes and remember playing ball, being way out in the outfield because I was never really very good. (That’s the story of my life-good enough to make the team, but exiled to the position w/ the least impact.) I can remember craning my neck, seeing the ball coming in slow motion and realizing with a slap of panic that it’s heading my way. I can remember the horror of realizing that everyone was watching what I’d do. Did I look like a sissy? What base do I throw it to on the off chance that I actually manage to catch it? Then there’s the hissing sound of air whirling around the ball, air being rudely shoved out of the way by something that ordinarily isn’t there. But baseball isn’t at all ordinary, especially when you feel the sting of the ball hitting the glove. I can’t say it’s an immediately enjoyable experience, but after the bustle of the play moves on to some other lucky or unlucky player and you realize, whether you made the play or not, that you’re still alive, more alive, then you can’t understand how you can live without it. That one moment is worth all the mind-numbing, grass-killing time in the barren wasteland of left field. Jesus said he came that we may have life, and that to the fullest, and when he came hurtling into the world from heaven it was much the same. Mankind spent so much time in-between, waiting, watching, when for a moment suddenly into the great field of history he came and his presence demanded the attention of the world. The moment has come and gone but we can all remember it, and we long for it, and it somehow makes the waiting bearable while we live our lives and do our best, which isn’t good at all most of the time.
Aedan is still at third, squatting down, absently running his fingers through the dirt on the base like a rake, at ease because life for him isn’t any bigger than the game he’s playing. I’m still sitting on the bleachers, scribbling away, looking at the deep blue dusk, the journal pages, and my little boy who’s playing this peaceful game while I sit and watch from the bleachers, though metaphorically I’m right in the middle of it, just like we all are; some of us in the lulls, some of us squinting our eyes shut at the whir of life coming painfully into contact with us, hoping we can make the play, waiting, cheering, rounding third where a great cloud of witnesses is waving us Home, and they’re telling us to run hard and keep running because it’s all worth it, praise Him.
What a beautiful evening for baseball.
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