Where the crowd rises at the crack of the bat. Where the wave makes it one more time around the stadium. Where the hot dog man locks eyes with you from afar and nods because he’s got you. Give me all of it.
The hope for a chance to catch a foul ball. “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the seventh, bom bom bom. The echo of the announcer’s voice calling out the name of a favorite player who just might make history today. Take me right there, and I’m a happy man.
I love the game of baseball. I always have and always will. From tee ball to the big leagues, from a player on the field to a fan in the stands. I like the smell of leather conditioner rubbed into a brand-new glove and the buzz of stadium lights. I like spitting sunflower seeds and sliding headfirst with slim chances. And in what may be a contrarian position these days, I also like the pace of play.
Baseball is a slow game. It’s true. In a society that’s been speeding up at every turn, blurring the lines in a hunt for the thrill of what’s next, baseball isn’t in a hurry to keep up. The game stands still, stubborn in the best kind of way. Baseball forces you to wait. They even call it America’s pastime, which speaks to a sort of casualness that’s inherent to the game.
You wait for your turn in the batting order. You wait in the on-deck circle. You wait in the field for the ball to be hit your way. You wait for the new pitcher to warm up. You wait between innings. You wait for everything. But when the action does come your way, you’d better be ready. That’s the sharp edge of the slowness. It’s slow until it’s not. Then lightning strikes. It’s slow until the pitcher grooves your pitch down the middle of the plate and you swing that bat with as much power as you can muster in the .25 seconds it takes to make a decision. Even now, I can hear the crack of the bat sending a screaming line drive down the center.
I’ll admit, I get a little nostalgic about baseball. I grew up playing, and a good deal of my memories as a kid come from being on the field. I remember my dad teaching me how to hit. He’d hand me the bat and set my feet in the right place, then take a few steps back and lob a ball my way. If I reached awkwardly or swung at a pitch at my feet, he’d say the same line: “Wait for your pitch.” More waiting. More patience.
The older I got and the higher the stakes of the games, the advice never changed. Standing in the batter’s box as a high schooler, then in college, and at a thousand summer games in between, I’d look down the third-base line at my coach and hear those same words: “Wait for your pitch.”
There’s a life lesson in there that isn’t lost on me. These days, it’s me up in the stands watching my boys step into the batter’s box and stare that pitcher down. Like my dad before me, I taught them how to hit. Maybe more importantly, I taught them how to wait. Because when that right pitch finally does come, they’re ready to smack it.
I love the game. Not in spite of all the waiting, but because of it. This time of year, as kids break out their gloves and start tossing the ball around again, I’m reminded of the defiant slowness of nine innings. The modern winds of hurry aren’t strong enough to knock baseball off course. That thread just keeps on weaving from one generation to the next at its own leisurely pace.
And when our time comes to step up to the plate with everything on the line, all that’s left to do is wait for the right pitch.