Many things define summertime, but few are as American as baseball. There’s nothing like the sound of the crack of a bat hitting a ball, hearing the crowd roar or watching a crafty pitcher baffle hitters over and over.
I grew up in a diehard “baseball family.” My mother is a lifelong fan with a goal of attending a game at every major league ballpark (she’s made it to all but two), my brother always played ball (softball for us girls) and I attended my first major league game at just four months old.
I still think a perfect ending to a lazy summer day is an evening with a baseball game on TV or at the ballpark.
Baseball is a part of our culture, even as a part of our vernacular — phrases such as “I have three strikes against me” or “she threw me a curve ball” are common well away from the field.
The game has changed very little in the last hundred years. Pitchers throw faster and hitters hit more homeruns, but the game itself is the same.
It’s simple, yet complex — I realized that again this summer while trying to explain the finer points of the game to my 6-year-old.
The traditions of baseball are one of the best parts. The national anthem is played before every game — and in major league games involving the one Canadian team, “Oh, Canada” is also played. After 9/11, it became a tradition “God Bless America” to be sung during games and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is the standard seventh inning stretch song, the finest crowd-participation ritual in sports.
A baseball crowd is like no other — many fans bond instantly with a “we’re all in this together” mentality.
Even though I’ve never been a San Diego Padres fan, I always liked their most legendary player, Tony Gwynn. One of the rare players to play for the same team during his entire career, Gwynn is one of the best hitters of all time.
Sadly, he died earlier this summer at age 54, after a battle with cancer.
It was rare to see Gwynn without a smile on his face. He always seemed to be enjoying himself on the field and was affable and accessible off the field.
After he retired, he coached the baseball team at his alma mater, San Diego State University, and was a knowledgeable, golden-voiced broadcaster. His advice to youngsters playing the game was simple: “Play hard and have fun.”
Gwynn’s career numbers are nothing short of brilliant. His lifetime batting average was .338, the highest career average since Ted Williams.
In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Gwynn’s average was .394 — without the strike, he may have broken .400. Hitting a baseball pitched at speeds upwards of 90 miles per hour is widely acknowledged as the hardest thing to do in all of sports, yet Gwynn did it successfully more than any other hitter of the modern era.
He had 3,141 career hits.
Gwynn was also a Golden Glove-winning right fielder and fifteen-time All-Star who struck out only 434 times in his entire career — that’s only 4.7 percent of his total career at-bats.
Gwynn’s advice to play hard and have fun is excellent advice for life in general, not just in baseball. In fact, many elements of the game apply to life; some folks even go so far as to call baseball a metaphor for life.
In some ways, baseball is a game of failure — the very best players only hit the ball about one third of the time.
But they pick themselves up and start over every time, just as we should do anytime success comes slowly.
Patience is a vital part of baseball — as a fan and a player. Learning to appreciate the slower moments makes the rallies all that more exciting. Isn’t that also true of life?
A hitter must always run at full speed — often, what looks like an out turns into a hit — a valuable reminder to always give your best effort and never give up.
One of the best baseball metaphors is this one, put into words by Frederick B. Wilcox: “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”
This summer, maybe you can make time to take in a bit of America’s pastime and maybe even reflect on how it mirrors life. It’s time well spent.
Rebecca Horvath is a wife, mother and community activist.comments powered by Disqus