Swing batta batta batta swing! Who's on deck?! Mine mine, I got it! Let's play ball!
These are the sounds of spring, of baseball's annual ritual finding its way into my ears and burrowing into a part of me that instinctually embraces those exclamations of a team sport I fell in love with as a kid.
Today is Opening Day for MLB and our beloved Toronto Blue Jays, and while I don't watch baseball with the same enthusiasm of my teen years, it still holds a warm place in my heart. I grew up playing the game with my brother, when "wall ball" was a thing and going outside for some stripped-down baseball on our street became a weekly ritual.
I also joined softball and hardball leagues, taking the position of pitcher for a couple reasons: It was the most action you got in a game where outfielders often languished on the grass, fielding few plays if opponents struggled to hit past the infield; and my brother was a pitcher and taught me how to throw all the tricky pitches you need in your repertoire. I still know how to grip the seams to throw a nasty slider.
I loved pitching. The smell of the grass spiced with the faint rubber odour of the mound, all eyes trained on you, the game in your hands, literally. A chess match was afoot with each batter, as he tried to figure out what I'd do next, while I was thinking a few pitches ahead, seeing how I could get him "in the hole" with a favourable count.
I'm not going to rewrite history and claim I was a star pitcher. My arm strength wasn't as impressive as others on my team, while my offspeed pitches served me better than heaters. What being on a baseball gave me was my first dance with a sport that would remain in my blood for years, thanks to the Jays' improbable World Series run in the early 90s. What an era to be a baseball fan in Toronto!
There's something pure about "America's game" that made it feel like Canada's game too. A all-star player, no matter how talented, couldn't carry a team to a championship; this was truly a team sport. I saw that with my hardball league teams each game, whether the camaraderie strengthened during our dugout hangs or after the high-fives when someone laid down a critical sacrifice bunt. We didn't just applaud the home runs but the little things that mattered.
I love the Babe Ruth quote, "Never let the fear of striking out get in your way." If that isn't a life lesson beyond the batter's box I don't know what is. Baseball gave me many things, like a closer relationship to my brother, exercise this pudgy teen sorely needed, friends I'd feel closer to than some school buddies. But baseball also instilled in me a determination to get up and strive to be great, even if the last at-bat got me down n' out.
Today I'll be watching the Jays battle the Tigers with a smile on my face, remembering how baseball empowered me to always be better than I was yesterday, to always step up to the plate no matter how many times I struck out the day before.
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