“Spring training” has just opened up. America’s favorite past-time signals warm weather, longer days, family outings, the good times. T-ball, little league, sandlot, at one time we all have engaged the crack of the bat, the excitement of rounding the bases.
When my son, Eyal, who is quadriplegic and vent dependent, was growing up, he played on a baseball team, called The Challengers. Summer evenings, a couple of times a week, our family would pile into our specially-equipped van and drive a half hour or so to a baseball field in North Syracuse. It’s clear the name of the team was coined because each player faces serious challenges. My son, “Big Al,” (does not every serious ball player have a nickname?) played third base.
When you watch these kids play baseball, at first there is a sense of disbelief and even restlessness. When the ball is hit, children are lifted and hoisted from wheelchairs and shuttled around the bases as family members and friends clap and cheer. In this league, ingenuity and imagination are the name of the game. For a girl who is blind, there is a special baseball that produces a beeping sound. A young boy smacks the ball using his crutch as a baseball bat. And all the time, parents and siblings are facilitating, enabling and empowering. You don’t have to watch for long to realize something very special is taking place on this baseball diamond, and it has very little to do with the game of baseball itself. It has to do with relationships, cooperation, perseverance and possibility. Whenever these kids play, I am witness to miracles as awe-inspiring as the splitting of the Red Sea. Previously, my understanding of a miracle was more “Bible stuff.” The expected lightning and thunder, mountains that shudder, now we’re talking miracles. But a miracle is nine kids on a baseball team, some of them cannot see, others cannot talk, and still others cannot even move. And they play baseball three nights a week in North Syracuse. Now that’s a miracle to write home about.
I’m reminded of this special baseball team whenever I visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, not far from my home. On the second floor, there is a theater that has been constructed to simulate an old-time major league baseball park. It allows you to sit in bleacher chairs, right up close to the action, you can even hear the voices of the ball players and those of the concessionaires, hawking programs, peanuts and cracker jacks. In this nostalgic environment, there is a seven-minute film clip, a young major leaguer walloping a baseball, a winning runner crossing home plate, hands held high. Candid shots, of modern major leaguers to little leaguers. And it all ends with the voices of children playing baseball in some cow pasture. And this voiceover:
“Baseball is a part of the very fabric of America. And at whatever level we experience it… whether we play it… or watch it … from backyard to major league stadium… it is a game that speaks to us of more than box scores and starting line-ups. It is a game that reflects:
the strength at the beginning…the wisdom near the end,
the bad days…and the good”
Baseball approaches myth because it is a celebration of life. As author Roger Angell wrote, “Since baseball is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly, keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”
Okay, “Big Al,” Eyal, get ready champ. You’re on deck. Batter Up!
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