The lan­guage of base­ball

Amer­ica’s fa­vorite pas­time builds bridges among gen­er­a­tions of fa­thers and sons

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Bren­dan Clary fin­gers up to catch the ball; stay down on grounders; bend your knees; trust your hands; swing hard; have con­fi­dence. Bren­dan Clary is an at­tor­ney and El­li­cott City res­i­dent; his email is bren­danclary@hot­mail.com.

My fa­ther was of­ten a mys­tery to me. Like most men of his gen­er­a­tion, he lived in the void be­tween what he felt and what he could say — ex­cept about base­ball. Even the most in­scrutable stu­dent of base­ball re­veals him­self over time. When I played, my fa­ther was my quiet ad­vo­cate, ob­serv­ing closely from a spec­ta­tor’s dis­tance and miss­ing noth­ing.

To the un­trained eye, base­ball moves at a lan­guid pace. But to the more dis­cern­ing, it is a game of con­stant ad­just­ment, en­durance and fo­cus. Men­tal dis­ci­pline trumps raw skill. Some games have more ac­tion than oth­ers. There’s no clock. In­nings build a game, games build a sea­son, and sea­sons build a life. The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of daily ef­forts matters most. You have to keep show­ing up. Once you have fig­ured all this out, though, you may have lost a step. And you just might raise your hand to coach.

My dad is gone now, and my play­ing days are long over, but I am not yet out of the game. For a few hours each week, I steer a squad of 9- and 10-year-olds.

What be­gan as hes­i­tant vol­un­teerism (hey, maybe I can do this) has be­come ded­i­cated rit­ual and stream of ad­vice:

I don’t know if I’m a good coach. I do know I’m a work in progress. I hope I’m not too set in my ways to learn new things.

In his mem­oir, “My Los­ing Sea­son,” nov­el­ist Pat Con­roy said “good coach­ing is good teach­ing and noth­ing else.” When I coach my son’s teams, I hold onto that thought. Much of coach­ing is know­ing when to hold off. The best coaches un­der­stand it’s never about them. They know that all that ever truly matters is courage in the at­tempt and fidelity to the unit. Watch­ing your small play­ers de­vote their all makes you want to be a bet­ter team­mate in your own world. I coach for my son, but I coach for my­self too.

A boy is most alive when he dis­cov­ers some­thing he loves and de­votes him­self to work­ing at it. It doesn’t have to be sports — it can be any pur­suit in which he loses him­self. I know dis­trac­tions and com­plex life obli­ga­tions will reach my son soon enough. But for now, there is base­ball.

When my son was 5, he loved to play catch. So we did. A lot. When we’re not play­ing the game, we’re watch­ing it. Now we sit in Cam­den Yards or Fen­way Park or Na­tion­als Sta­dium when­ever we can. We dis­sect the game, share strate­gies and con­fer about the sta­tus of the team we are root­ing for that day. (Ori­oles first, al­ways. No ex­cep­tions.) Af­ter this sea­son’s in­spir­it­ing run to a wild card spot and sud­den heart­break, my son of­fered a mea­sured assess­ment: “We’ll get them next year.”

I hope my son main­tains his gen­tle op­ti­mism for harsher dis­ap­point­ments ahead. When he stops play­ing — a long time from now, I hope — maybe he will pass on to an­other group of kids, or his own, some of what I have tried to im­part. De­spite re­plays and saber­met­rics, the game hasn’t changed that much through the years and prob­a­bly never will. At its best, it en­ables fa­thers and sons to know each other, how­ever im­per­fectly, while they can. It gives us some­thing to keep show­ing up for — a lan­guage for talk­ing across gen­er­a­tions.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

A fa­ther is sil­hou­et­ted while play­ing with his baby at Ori­ole Park at Cam­den Yards.

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