What a bewildering time. It seems this whole year the world can't stay above water for all the tragedy that just keeps breaking on us in waves. I was looking forward to coaching my sons' baseball team this season, even in the midst of lockdowns, family moves, and uncertainty all around. I was holding out hope beyond hope that the proverbial skies would clear and we could all have just that little taste of normal in what was always sure to be a very strange summer. But I learned Tuesday night that my children's baseball league would not be holding its spring season and is, in fact, dissolving. In the grand scheme of society's problems it is infinitesimal, but to my children, and I expect others who have likewise been deprived of a summer highlight of their young lives, it's a crushing disappointment. Add to that the bleak prospect for professional baseball returning this summer, and the whole situation feels like salt on a wound--not for its own sake but for what baseball does and what it represents.
Baseball has a history of bringing people together in the wake of national tragedy, and this year has brought that heartache on a global scale. As the suffering has mounted, so has the collective frustration, and the way forward feels impossibly complicated. It is these moments that baseball acts as a pressure valve, and its steady cadence offers a welcome chance to wind down. But while the lack of professional baseball is sad, it is secondary in that it ought to be a reflection of youth baseball. If the majors did not exist, children would still play the game, albeit without it being an outlet for the insatiable childhood desire for pretending. Things like the World Series are only fun insofar as they represent the biggest, most important games in the sport. Without those, kids would still find significance in the Little League World Series, their all-star championships, or even their local rec league tournament. For kids, the biggest game of their lives is the one they're currently playing.
So while I love the professional game, its loss is not half so painful as that of the simple childhood joys of leather, dirt, and morning dew. They seem an eternity away right now, and their absence is especially tragic because of how badly we need them. I don't mean my kids are driving me crazy at home and I need them to have an outlet (though that is sometimes true--parents, let me hear an amen). I mean that as parents and coaches, watching and coaching our children gives us a chance to learn from the youngest among us how to work together to overcome anything. Honestly, I love coaching not because I love to teach (though I do), but because I learn so much more from these young players. Whatever lessons I give them in baseball skills, they give me ten-fold in courage, love, joy, friendship, camaraderie, and teamwork. They remind me that all the knots grown-ups tie the world up in can be untied with a little cork, string, and leather. They remind me that the only way to truly lose is to give up on ourselves and on each other. They remind me that the hardest thing to overcome is our own fears, and that once broken through, anything is possible.
I will miss this season. But I know that there will be others. So I will go out with my sons this summer, and we will play catch. In doing so, we will prepare ourselves for a future where there will be baseball again; and one day, there will be. I know that some will do this, thinking that a lost season could be devastating to their children's dreams of major league careers. My sons have that dream too (as well as being astronauts, rock stars, and everything else they happen to see and think cool). That's probably not going to happen. There's something like a one in 50,000 chance of a person making a major league roster--but that's never been the point. Because at their core, the kids don't care that there's going to be baseball one day, or that there's going to be baseball tomorrow. They care that there's baseball today, and that they're the ones playing it. They care that you're the one playing it with them. They care that the grown-up world isn't so consuming that it steals from them this moment, or that this moment steals your time from them.
So go out and play catch. Play catch with your kids. Play catch with friends, and their kids. Play catch with someone you don't know, and turn them into a friend. In doing so, you say that this year, this awful year, will not have the final word. Because there will be baseball again.