On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

The boys of spring and summer have become the men of October as the days of dwindling light send messages of approaching winter. Even with the early dusk the cold lights of most American baseball parks share the darkness with autumn’s night. No longer do they radiate the colors and feelings of those come to cheer the play of nine men frolicking in the dirt and grass in chase of a small, white ball. Crowds, once happy with hope, now sing songs of resignation whose lyrics, even in their despair, speak of never ending hope–“wait’ll next year.”

As October crawls across the calendar, America’s metaphor for life itself begins its annual hibernation to disappear from the forefront of our consciousness. But briefly, in a few cities, the fires burn brightly in the hopeful hearts of those still in the game. Their diamonds sparkle in reflected glory, for their teams have won the right to “post-season play.” Glory is short lived, however, and the process of elimination quickly narrows to only two. October signals the arrival of the championship series, the World Series, a time of pressure and tension. Baseball is not pristine–far from perfect in some of its humanness. Even its championship playoffs were soiled on one occasion when a fix or a bribe led the press to shift one team’s nickname from “White Sox” to “Black Sox” and lock out one of baseball’s very best, Joe Jackson. Eighty years and the memory lingers still.

What is it about baseball that stimulates singing poetry, that elevates common man to uncommon philosophical analogy, that rouses lyrical sentiment? Is it the pastoral pace, so slow yet so explosive with such delicate art and timing? Is it the rapid shift from nothing to something as suddenly, with the crack of a bat, dwindling hope becomes exultation for those who refuse to despair? Is it the majesty of the arena with an aroma unto itself, where mundane food tastes like gourmet? I don’t know, but the language of baseball provides metaphors that sing a song of their own.

A father speaks to his son on the day of his graduation from college and entrance into the world of work.

“Well, son, you’re goin’ up to the big time now. This will be the big leagues. They play hard ball there. Sure, you’ll be seen as a rookie for awhile, but you’ve got to get in the game–step up to the plate. And when that high hard one comes toward your ear, lean back and take your cut. You’re a natural. You’ve got some grand slams in you–you can knock it out of the park. Just keep your eye on the ball. People won’t expect you to hit a thousand–just hang in there. They’ll be throwing some great stuff at you–don’t miss any signs and stay alive. Concentrate. Don’t let ’em think you’re way out in left field in the middle of a critical play. Sometimes, people will try to pitch you a curve. Don’t get down on yourself. Learn how to hit it, ’cause some of those curves will hang out over the plate as sweet as can be–so watch your timing, take your cut and watch it fly.”

I think it was the eminent philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra who said: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” That’s true about baseball, and it’s also true about life. Some people initiate a ‘little death’ process in the face of adversity. Somehow, their life’s ball game didn’t play out as they expected. Their team’s middle relievers came in and gave up six runs with two out in the bottom of the fifth. Some give up. Their dream of victory lies vanquished in the dust of a middle reliever’s ineffectiveness. They forget there are still four innings left and they have an at-bat left. Instead, they abandon hope.

The object of the game of baseball is to get home–to travail the difficult journey from one safe place to another while taking risks fraught with danger in between. The lessons of the game reveal the importance of spirit, cooperation, perseverance, commitment, dedication, determination, achievement, teamwork. And, when in doubt–follow the rules.

October is here. The World Series approaches. It’s our world–our championship series in life’s game on a diamond in the sun. We are the players. We choose the color of our sox. Victory comes in the bottom of the ninth to those who persevere–and then, in the beauty of April, when springtime wears its dress of many colors–the sound of ash greeting a thrown ball awakens within us the joy of fresh hope and new beginning.

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