The first gift I remember getting was a baseball bat,
one of those giant hollow ones made out of bright blue plastic from down at the Family Dollar. The kind of bat you can’t help but swing and hit something, anything. Dad bought it for me. A single plastic ball, bright white and roughly the size of a coconut, came taped to the handle like an afterthought. Summertime, that’s when it was. Hot sun and a warm breeze. Me with a Spiderman T-shirt and Dad wearing a pair of cut-off shorts, a wad of tobacco in his jaw. Sometime in the mid-70s. Had to have been, because I can still see Dad’s old truck parked in the driveway beside Mom’s yellow Camaro.
And I can see the two of us out on the sidewalk in front of the house, Dad’s hand on my shoulder as he points to a splotch of gray paint on the sidewalk. Him telling me to put my foot right there, hold that bat up behind my shoulder. Get ready. Watch the ball. That pitch coming in slow and easy—“I’m rainbowin’ it,” Dad says—and me shutting my eyes to swing.
I can see all of it, every detail even these many years later.
The memory stands as fresh and clear as the one of me sitting down to my computer just a few minutes ago. Isn’t that strange? We’ve all lived so many moments, each of them recorded on some bit of gray matter in some fold of our brains, yet we’ve forgotten much more of our lives than we can recall. I can’t tell you what I did last Thursday, but I can relive that moment of taking my first swings of a baseball bat forty years ago with such clarity that I may just as well be five years old again.
I’m not sure why some memories are like that, so precise when so many others are subject to fading. But I do have a theory. Those first meetings with people and things which will come to help define our lives are ones we never forget. Those memories shine no matter the distance between when we are and when they happened because we continually return to them, keeping them strong, keeping them shiny.
That’s baseball to me. Always has been.
And I get it if baseball isn’t your thing. Really, I do. The days of every person in the country huddling around the radios in their living rooms to hear a nightly game are gone. It’s all too slow for our fast-paced lives. So much standing around and spitting, so little action. Weird rules. Steroids.
But for me baseball was always more. Not merely a game, but my first lessons in everything from poetry to physics, history to religion.
The only specifications for a baseball field is the distance between the bases and from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. Meaning the size of a field is limited only to one’s imagination. Meaning, I guess, that a baseball field could technically stretch on into infinity.
And there is no clock to a baseball game, no threat of time expiring. It takes as long as it takes. There must be a winner and a loser. A game perfectly played would last for eternity.
But here’s my favorite: scientifically speaking, hitting a major league fastball is impossible. The time it takes for a 95 mph pitch to reach home plate is shorter than the time it takes for the human eye to register it, much less for the human eye to then coordinate the rest of the body to swing a rounded bat in the correct plane and degree to meet a rounded ball. Meaning that game you might believe is boring really isn’t at all, it is a succession of small miracles unfolding before your very eyes.
Infinity. Eternity. Miracles. Sounds like my kind of thing.
I played baseball all through high school and had designs on playing much longer before life got in the way. That’s a story for later, though. But I still love the game and will upon occasion still wake myself in the night from swinging a bat in my dreams. It seemed inevitable, then, that the day would come when I would write a baseball book. That day is today.
Steal Away Home is my ninth novel (NINE. No wonder I’m so tired) and is out today.
You can learn more about it here.
If you’re a baseball fan, rejoice. You’ll find plenty there to nourish your love of the game. But don’t despair if you don’t know a fielder’s choice from a fungo, because it isn’t about baseball at all deep down, it’s about the things we love and come to depend upon to give our lives meaning, and how all of those things will eventually lead us to ruin unless our love is placed first in the one person who will never let us down.