Boys of SummerPosted: August 2, 2010
In my latest column for The Hingham Journal I write about the joys and crazy coaches of summer little league baseball. Oh, and my prized possession: a stadium seat from the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
Boys of Summer
By the Rev. Tim Schenck
With my two sons playing on separate travel baseball teams, I’ve spent a lot of time on little league diamonds this summer. I’m not complaining – nothing beats watching your boys play ball on a beautiful summer evening. Losing makes the ride home from Duxbury or Rockland drag on but they’ve been playing well and having fun. I’ve even picked up my old habit of spitting sunflower seeds which I haven’t done since college.
Mind you there hasn’t been a major leaguer to come out of Hingham since Mike “King” Kelly starred for the Boston Beaneaters in the 19th century (I don’t think I’d enjoy sitting in that dugout). Sure, Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield lives in town but it’s not as if he learned his famed knuckleball on the mean streets of Hingham. But when you’re nine and eleven-years-old the odds are irrelevant – the dream of playing professional baseball is alive, well, and thriving.
You do see some amazing things on the fields of the South Shore. And I’m not just talking about astounding hits and spectacular errors. At one game we encountered a coach who, after witnessing a few bad plays in the field, literally stopped the game and stood on the third base line to berate his team. All of the wonderful noises of youth baseball – the encouraging chatter, the pounding of fists into mitts, the ping of the ball hitting the bat, even the chime of the blasted ice cream truck – went silent.
With the bases jammed for the Hingham Americans, all eyes were riveted on this coach. Players, parents, younger siblings, even the several dogs in attendance stopped to stare and listen to the embarrassing diatribe which culminated with his screaming, “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!” Which, of course, was beautiful irony. There was indeed someone who should have been ashamed. But it certainly wasn’t the poor second baseman who let a ball slip through his legs or the pitcher who became increasingly flustered by a parade of walks punctuated by verbal abuse.
As I stood in disbelief at the third base coach’s box, another one of our coaches went over to comfort the second baseman who had burst into tears. One thing’s for sure – the kids on our team have a new appreciation for their own coaches who are encouraging, positive, and take joy in imparting baseball wisdom.
It’s been said that baseball is a form of liturgy. And there is indeed a high degree of ritual involved in the game. It can be understood at multiple levels and, when it is played with preparation, passion, and joy, it is beautiful to behold. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been drawn to it. It is also relational – beyond the team camaraderie baseball has historically drawn fathers and sons together. For me, the tragedy that night was watching it pull a father and son apart; it was the coach’s son getting shelled on the mound.
My own father took me to my first baseball game in 1975, shortly after my family moved to Baltimore. He had absolutely no interest in the game; he was a symphony orchestra conductor after all. I fell in love with the game at first sight and over the years he actually became quite an Orioles fan himself. When he was dying of cancer he wrote me a letter while he watched the last game ever played at the old Memorial Stadium before it was torn down. In it he wrote about his love for me and the sense of peace he felt as he prepared to take leave of this world. He died several months after the final out was recorded and I’ve always associated the death of Memorial Stadium with the death of my father. Its final destruction was like one last shovel-full of dirt being thrown over my earthly relationship with him. I still mourn the loss of the stadium, as I do the loss of my father, but I also take comfort in having known them both.
Just before the stadium was razed, they announced the sale of artifacts. I found myself drawn like a pilgrim in search of a holy relic and a seat from Memorial Stadium is now among my most prized possessions. To my wife’s chagrin it sits on our screened-in porch; though she did manage to keep it out of the living room. I’m not entirely sure what drove me to seek out a piece of the stadium. But I do know that it’s comforting to have in the house. If a religious icon is a window into the mystery of the divine, my chair is a kind of icon. It serves as a window into a special time in my life and it somehow puts me in touch with a part of my heart that I will always cherish. One that has been touched over and over again this summer watching my own boys play ball.