The Love of the Game

Everybody loved baseball in my neighborhood. On summer nights, from the front porches of the houses came the tinny voices of the announcers out of hand-held transistor radios. Everywhere you went, you asked the same question, “what’s the score?”

We loved to play baseball, too. There was a big field in an undeveloped part of town where we played every day, every evening. I was never a great player, but it wasn’t a performance concept. It was the pure love of the game and though I never excelled at baseball, I played with devotion from the first warm breaths of the Michigan spring to the chilly frost of late autumn.

I left home at eighteen and my baseball-playing days seemed to be over. I missed baseball in my life. Ten years later, I was living in exile on the Arizona desert when a friend from my place of employment asked me to join a softball team. This was serious softball, uniforms, batting averages, scorecards, two games per night, one evening per week, a season of twelve games in duration.

At first I declined. I was never that good at playing baseball and here it was ten years later and these guys were a little serious for me. Then I remembered how much I loved the game, and I suited up and showed up. Game one.

They put me on first base so I couldn’t do too much damage in the field. I wasn’t worried about hitting, I could always hit the ball and this was slow pitch softball. Anyone could hit a fat softball on the downward cusp of its leisurely arc. I went zero for four that first game, no hits, no contact, I even struck out once. To strike out in slow pitch softball qualifies as a humiliation in any location.

That’s the way it went for the first six games. Every time I got up to bat, I sat down again. My batting average, kept dutifully by the team’s statistician and displayed on a scoreboard when I went up to bat, was zero zero zero. That means in the first six games of the season, I did not get a single hit. I resented coming to the ballpark and I began to rue the day I agreed to play.

The evening of the seventh game I came to the ballpark early. I stood behind the backstop and watched the first game. I remembered how much I love baseball, I became the boy who played from the first blush of spring to the first frost of autumn, I remembered the exalted crack of the bat connecting with the ball, the smell of the leather, the purity of the sports page, the roar of the crowd, I remembered how much I loved baseball.

Game seven that night, I came to bat with both a new humility and a new confidence. I didn’t much care what or how I hit, I loved baseball and I was there to play. The bonus is that I went four for four that night, every time I came up to bat I hit a clean single over second base just to the right field side. Four for four.

I went four for four that night, and the next game four for four, and the next, and for the last six games of the season, I got a hit every time I came to bat. Every single time. That means for the first six games I hit zero zero zero and the last six games I hit a thousand. I was the hero of the team. I had fans who came to see me play.

What’s the lesson? It’s not that anyone can hit a thousand if they remember their childhood. Hitting a thousand is beside the point. The point is that I showed up, the point is that I remembered how much I loved baseball, the point is that it didn’t matter to me what I hit, I loved the game. I let go and I didn’t care if I spent the whole season hitting zero zero zero. I loved the game. And the point is, if you can hit zero zero zero, you can also hit a thousand.

You gotta love the game to play it, but just to love the game doesn’t mean you will hit a thousand. That kind of thinking sells a lot of self-help books but I do not think it is accurate or helpful to people struggling with real life where few of us hit either zero zero zero or a thousand. There is, however, the deep wisdom of just showing up. Every human meeting, every time you suit up and go, you sit there and remember how much you love living, for this is something that we can forget. And the way to remember is just to suit up and show up.

When you suit up and show up, anything is possible. You may lose the dirt that buried your love of the game, you dust off your heart and open it up to the wonder of your existence, you may even hit a thousand.

Anything is possible when you love the game.