My love affair with baseball began with reluctance.
As a high school student with two working parents, I was tasked with transporting my siblings to little league. My brothers, aged six and ten, were aficionados. They kept meticulous stats and collected shoeboxes full of cards. They staged elaborate games in the backyard with multitudes of ghost runners and often only a single fielder. I, on the other hand, had boyfriends to call and MTV to watch; I wasn’t interested in baseball.
But my brothers had been dragged to all my tennis matches, awards assemblies, and choir concerts, and Mom and Dad felt it was time I returned the favor. So to baseball I went.
Practices weren’t too bad. They were only an hour or so, and we were usually late. 5 pm would find us fishing through the laundry for pants or socks that no one had bothered to wash. I’d usually bring a book and settle into my lawn chair, turning the pages of Pride and Prejudice to the dusty thump, thump, thump of balls hitting mitts.
But the games were a different story. They were interminable. Teams in these leagues carried anywhere from fifteen to twenty players and it wasn’t unusual for them to ‘bat around’ in almost every inning. Everybody was a hitter. And even if they weren’t, it didn’t matter, since nobody could catch. Or throw. Or pitch. It was in my youngest brother’s league where I was introduced to the rolling homer. A child would swing mightily, often from high to low, as though swatting a fly, and the ball would bounce into the infield. It would roll past the shirking pitcher and slowly elude the daydreaming shortstop, finally coming to rest in the tall grasses of the outfield until someone, usually the coach’s son, realized it was still in play. He might grab it and throw excitedly towards first base, overshooting and nailing someone’s windshield in the process. By that time, the serendipitous batter would have tagged all the bases and slid into home plate. Even when the ball was nowhere near them, the kids always slid. Dirt on your pants was a badge of honor.
My other brother played travel ball, which was less an indication of his skill level and more a sign that the games were simply farther away. The fields were a little bigger; one had actual dugouts. And all the teams were sponsored by local businesses. My brother and his friends played for a used car dealership, but their nemeses, the kids on a team to the north, were sponsored by a nearby bakery. My brother was never more inconsolable than when he suffered defeat at the hands of the Mighty Muffins.
Spring ball gave way to summer ball, and though my parents were better able to attend these games, I found myself tagging along anyway. I still had dates and friends and college packing to do, but I chose to sit through little league. I began to find comfort in the game itself.
There was something soothing about baseball’s consistency. Three strikes made an out, three outs turned an inning, and there were only three bags to tag on your way back home. I stood on the cusp of adulthood, excited and scared in the face of what was to come. Little did I know that I would never live at home again. I would study abroad, meet a Navy man, and travel the world. I would watch big league ball in Boston, Seattle, Tampa, and Detroit. But no matter how far from home I strayed, I carried with me the comfortable thump of those little league mitts, and the image of ghost runners in the backyard soundlessly cheering boys playing at being men.
Author Bio: Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh is a writer, teacher, dog-lover, and mom. She spends her days knocking about with her three children, eating salads, and sneaking dark chocolate when nobody’s looking.