“Grammy, can you play baseball with me? I brought four baseballs and my bat from Florida, and you can pitch to me. Then we can play catch. Can we play every day while we are staying with you?”
“Sure, Ezra! There is nothing I’d like better than playing baseball with you.” I dig out my childhood baseball glove from the sports box in the garage, remembering how I would put it over the handlebars of my bike and ride to the playground and sandlots in the summer. Girls were not allowed to participate in Little League or any other organized baseball, but I still found ways to play.
We put the fifty-year-old relic back in the box, and I take out my newer, forty-plus-year-old high school softball glove, which is in much better shape. We walk to the field at a nearby elementary school where I pitch underhanded to Ezra.
He’s a pretty good hitter for being six years old. The problem is, I haven’t thrown a ball for a few decades. “Grammy, you’re throwing too high or too outside or too inside. Maybe it will help if you throw the ball faster.” After a while things begin to click.
“Ezra, you’re really getting the hang of this.”
“No, Grammy, YOU’RE THE ONE WHO IS GETTING THE HANG OF THIS!”
Baseball truth #1: Baseball is still America’s national pastime.
“Grammy, if you threw faster and overhand and down the middle, I know could hit it better.”
“Okay, Ezra.” I am a bit wild, but he is able to hit most of my pitches. Then he hits a fly ball that I lunge for. “Oh, my!” I wince in pain. I think I tore a muscle in my non-throwing arm. “OW!” Clearly, my body is no longer trained for baseball. Am I am getting too old for this? “Ezra, I think I need to be a little more careful in reaching for the balls.”
I teach Ezra how to throw the ball up and hit it himself so that next time we can hit fly balls to each other. We walk home hand in hand, and I head right for the Advil.
Baseball truth #2: Being in shape for one sport is does not necessarily translate to another sport, especially if you are old.
“Grammy, you are getting better. You almost caught that ball. You should throw it faster, Grammy. I can’t hit it when you throw slow.”
A cyclist passes. “That hit was really good! Keep it up!” Walkers pass by. “You’re doing great!” They’re not talking about me. Ezra beams.
“Ezra, did your mommy ever tell you that I was her softball coach when she was in elementary school and we lived in Pentwater? We had a really good team, and your mom was a great player.” I hit some fly balls to him in the outfield.
“Wow, Grammy you really hit that far!” After I whiff a few, we sit on the grass drinking water and then walk home.
Baseball truth #3: Baseball requires patience from pitchers, batters, fielders … and fans. Rewards come to those who wait with expectation and high alert.
“Today we are going to bunt, Grammy. We’ll do ten minutes hitting, five minutes bunting, ten minutes playing catch and then repeat the same thing over again, okay?”
“I’m all yours, Ezra. Who are your heroes on the Tigers, Ezra?”
“Miggy, Cespedes and JD.”
“They are some of the Tigers’ best players, right? Do you know what I did when I was in elementary school? My younger brother Randy and I would play catch for what seemed like hours. We’d pretend to be Jim Bunning, Dick Allen or Cookie Rojas on the Phillies and always took our gloves on vacation so we could play catch. I hope someday you will teach your little brother, River, how to catch.”
“Ezra, you’re a great bunter.”
“Bunting is an important part of the game, Grammy.”
“Because that’s how runners can move up a base and be in scoring position.”
Baseball truth #4: Baseball is a team sport. There are times when sacrificing for the sake of the team is more important than swinging for the bleachers.
We lost a ball yesterday in the high grass of the field. Today we discover that not only has the lawn been mowed but our hard ball has been run over. We are left with two halves of a ball with no insides.
Ezra practices catching back-handed today. He boasts, “I’ve never missed catching one in my whole life! … Grammy, you have to get better at pitching. Think about this. If I say I am going to throw it over the plate I will. If I imagine it, it will happen.” Out of the mouth of babes.
Baseball truth #5: Attitude is everything… aka: it’s all in your head.
Another family is playing on the field when we arrive. “They can’t be here,” Ezra insists. “They have to leave.”
“Don’t worry, Ezra. There is space enough for all of us to play.”
“Ezra, try to be ready for each pitch. Sometimes you miss the ball because you aren’t focused. Have the bat ready so you don’t swing too late.”
“Okay, keep reminding me, Grammy.”
Baseball truth #6: Baseball is a lot slower than most sports. Notice I didn’t say the B word (boring). It’s also the only major team sport that doesn’t use a time clock. Whether you are fielding, hitting or base running, you have to always be ready.
“You hit from a pitching machine sometimes don’t you, Ezra? Do you like it better than my pitching?”
“Definitely, because the pitching machine always gets the ball over the plate. Grammy, you don’t always pitch it straight.”
“Ezra, baseball is a funny game because you have to get used to not always getting a hit, or, if you are the pitcher, not always getting it over the plate. No matter how hard you practice, the majority of the time you won’t get a hit or pitch a game without giving up a run or two.”
Baseball truth #7: Failure is our constant companion in baseball as well as in life. After all, getting only one hit in every three at bats may place you among the highest batting averages in the league! And giving up two earned runs as a pitcher in every game may also put you among the leaders.
It’s 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, and I’ve just changed my clothes after preaching two services.
“Grammy, I am going to hit the ball so far today it will go past the fence. And you can throw harder, like my Daddy did yesterday. Let’s run to the school.”
“I don’t think so, Ezra. I’m too pooped from church this morning. Plus, it’s really hot. I need to walk right now.”
“Grammy, your pitching is not good today. My Daddy never throws a bad pitch. Grammy, that was the absolutely worst pitch ever.”
I slink back home, embarrassed at the inability of my left arm to follow directions from my brain. If you don’t use, it you lose it.
Baseball truth #8: You can’t be at your best every day. That applies to sermons as well as baseball.
“This is my best day of all, Grammy. I hit the ball really well.”
“So you did. I am very proud of you, Ezra. This will be our last day of pitching and catching. You’ve made great progress over the last nine days.”
“Let’s go home early, Grammy. I don’t want to play catch today. It’s too hot. Plus there are bees around here, and I’m scared of bees.”
“Don’t worry, Ezra. You don’t need to be scared of bees because you’re with me. I’ll take care of you. How about some ice cream when we get home?”
Baseball truth #9: Baseball is just a game. Yes, but playing games with each other builds relationships and enables children to learn and gain skills in a supportive environment. When children trust their parents, grandparents, coaches or Sunday school teachers, the unconditional love they feel empowers them to risk, try new things and become their true selves, all the time knowing that you can’t win ‘em all.
“Next time I’m in Florida, would you like me to bring my glove, Ezra?”
“Yes, Grammy, but make sure to practice ahead of time.”