The Big Game

I don’t know if everyone had a chance to read this at the reunion, so I wanted to post it here as well. Rachel Sommerer wrote it just for you…

It is on a night such as this that dreams are awakened and legends are born. The air, heavy and thick, seems to descend to the ground in unison with the setting sun. As the light fades, the air embraces every living thing with which it comes into contact, wrapping itself in a smothering hug around them. Birds no longer dot the horizon, settling into their skybox seats as cicadas begin their cadence anthem. And then comes the resolute cry, “Play Ball!”

Players take the field as if spilling out into their places, which to the untrained eye appears to lack purpose. But there are directions shouted, adjustments made in individual strongholds, and constant communication between team members. The field that absorbs this surge of activity is as familiar to these players as they are to it. Re-acquaintances take place in the outfield between toes and turf. Bases are kicked in a familiar way as if patting an old friend on the back. No one here is a stranger; all are family – one of the same. And standing tall, albeit somewhat stooped and weathered is the backstop, the sentinel that stands ready for the game.

Anticipation courses through the crowd. Fans wave flags and shout encouragement to their favorite players as they try desperately to ignore those hot sticky hugs from the air. Nothing though, can dampen their spirits or dull the smiles on each and every face. This game means as much to them as it does to the players on the field. For many of them it brings back the memories of younger days and their own moments of glory. For others it is the simple pleasure of seeing youthful exuberance at play. Either way, this event is not to be missed!

“Batter up!” comes the call, and to the batter’s box comes a rookie. Short in stature, but not in promise, this mighty swinger takes his place and surveys the opponent. An intense look of dogged determination sets into his eyes and everyone knows that someday this kid is gonna be great. Will tonight be his night?

The meeting of bat and ball makes itself known by the all familiar “crack!” Sturdy legs and a mighty will carry the rookie to first base as the fans roar, and his heart bursts with pride at this first successful at-bat in the big leagues. His eyes now turn toward second as he awaits the next hit, for surely the veteran up next will propel him around the bases.

Another “crack!” and the ball sails free over the infield of players with upturned faces. Gloves that were hanging limp start to rise up involuntarily in support of the solitary glove of the center fielder who dives to snatch the escaped sphere. A collected breath is released at exactly the same moment as the player, covered with grass stains and sweat, rises from the ground, right arm outstretched to produce the evidence of a spectacular catch. Even as the fans shout with glee the rookie runner tags up and heads for second. Hands clap and voices explode with enthusiasm as the game continues.

No one can stand to be idle during this event; all are compelled by some force of nature to be involved. The smallest of fans run among the seats, chubby fists wrapped around fading popsicles. Older attendees comment and speculate about individual players and their potential for greatness. Beer is sipped and water bottles tip to the lips of those roasting in the twilight embers of the sun.

Batters continue their parade of talent during strikes and hits, homeruns and outs, fly balls and grounders, while fielders put on a display of running, tagging, catching, diving and throwing. And as in any professional game, pitching takes center stage. The placement of the ball over home plate is precisely calculated for each batter, based on height, strength, hand preference and experience. A straight fast ball for the upstart who is looking for the grand slam – just to see if the pitcher can get one by him; a slow arching curve ball for the unassuming, but consistent veteran of the game – to keep him guessing; and an inside slider to wake up the over confident cleanup hitter. This is not a movement of chance; it is a strategy of defense and the pitcher is master of the game.

The final inning closes with a thunderous applause from the crowd. It is at this moment that one can truly see the love of this game on the faces of each soul in attendance. The rookie, whose hat is too big for his head and who barely stands taller than his bat is hoisted onto the shoulders of his father coming in from his position at first base. The veteran who hit the fly ball stretches up from his chair and affectionately places an arm around his granddaughter who, in addition to running the bases on her own hit, was prepared to skirt the infield at lightning speed on his behalf, had his ball not been snagged by the center fielder. Who at this moment, in a brave attempt to continue the character of a true big league player, will share with no one but his wife that he will need to visit the chiropractor next week in order to realign all that has been rearranged during his ‘catch of the game.

In the midst of mutual congratulations by all players on such a superb demonstration of talent, the right fielder unfolds himself and rises from his seat, the best one in the stadium. As he collapses the lawn chair, picks up his beer, and heads in from the outfield he is once again reminded how close up the action seems when you place yourself on the field for the entire game – no matter which team is at bat. Why show favoritism by choosing sides?

Cousins clasp hands with cousins. Aunts and nephews make sure gloves and bats are returned to rightful owners. Uncles and nieces agree that the power rang true in the pink aluminum bat that evening. And the great grandbabies, who are not yet able to hold a bat, join the celebration of baseball by toddling around the now empty bases. Their bare toes collect helpings of soft, warm dirt at each base and their small hands grasp tightly to the finger of the great grandpa who walks steadily along beside them.

The folding chair stands are now empty. But unlike other stadiums, this field is void of any empty cups, cans, or snack containers. Great care is taken to erase the marks of human folly on this sacred piece of land. Little red wagons haul away Kool-Aid pouches, light beer bottles and a cooler of ice water. An inventory is taken of both equipment and children, making sure none are left behind. Bases are carefully placed in protective custody of the weathered shed where no elements can further promote their decay. Muffled voices of the fading crowd give prelude to the closing strands of the cicada’s evening song and the occupants of the skybox seats have long passed settled into their feathered beds as God turns off the field light.

This game, where no score was kept, where no strike out was called, where a stolen base was literally in the hands of the shortstop, and where a kiss could be stolen from the third baseman by his wife on her way around to home, is truly the greatest game ever played. Were dreams truly awakened? Were legends born? On this one summer night, once a year, for one family – most definitely!

In honor of the Sommerer Family annual baseball game,
Rachel Sommerer
© June, 2010

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