This commentary has appeared many places but I thought you might enjoy it since it’s baseball season…
“Anybody want to play?”
a short story from Free Pecan Pie and Other Chick Stories
Janelle Meraz Hooper
Every spring the hamburger joints are filled with ball players all dressed up in their new baseball outfits, their pristine new balls, mitts, and hats scattered on the tables among the milk shakes and fries. It always makes me wonder: they have the equipment, but do they have a passion for the game? Is that all baseball is about—pricey equipment?
Times are getting tough, and excess has been on the minds of many Americans lately. I think that the sport of baseball is a good example. Fancy stadiums. Fancy uniforms. And those players’ contracts…well, let’s not even go there.
Maybe the fancy trappings aren’t necessary. Once, I saw a perfect pick-up baseball game that was low in budget but high in passion. It was back in the sixties, and my husband and I were taking a break from college to visit his favorite aunt and uncle in a little town in Idaho called Clark Fork (population: 125). Uncle Archie was a real mountain man who spent his days hunting, fishing, and trapping. His nights were spent drinking, gambling, and barroom brawling. Aunt Frances raised purebred Manx cats that she shipped all over the world. Her cupboard was full of home-canned delicacies—for the cats. Shelf after shelf was filled with canned kamloop, venison, and elk. Enough for a year. For sixteen cats.
That Saturday afternoon, we were kicking back with Aunt Frances while she watched wrestling when her small porch was filled with the sound of scuffling feet. The screen door creaked. A little hand knocked. When my husband opened the door, a chorus of excited voices of assorted ages all gushed out at the same time. “We’re getting up a game, does anyone here want to play?” Of course we did.
When they left, I said, “We forgot to ask them where we’re playing.”
My husband answered, “There’s only one ballfield in town, honey.”
Going through Uncle Archie’s closets we were able to come up with a mitt and a bat that may have been used most recently for clubbing kamloop before it was dragged onto a boat. Off we went to the ballfield that turned out to be a neglected lot with a rusty chicken wire backstop behind home plate and a cedar railing about eighteen inches high on the street side. The other sides were rimmed in tall, fragrant pines.
My husband pointed to the railing and told me I could sit in the bleachers. Everyone showed up about the same time. This was a logging town, and both teams were wearing plaid flannel shirts and logging boots with their heavy work jeans. Every age group was represented. We only had one ball that I think someone had taken away from their dog, and it was so dirty it kept getting lost in the grass and mud.
The air hung heavy with mist but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. We were overcome with joy at the sight of the ball crossing the cedar shingle we were using for home plate. Everyone got a turn at bat, with the older players taking time to encourage the younger ones.
We stayed there playing until we couldn’t see the ball anymore and it was pure joy. I don’t remember who won. What I do remember is the passion we had for the game. Not the fancy uniforms, not the expensive mitts. There were none. It was the game we were there for, and only the game.
So, it’s spring again, and here comes another carload of kids dressed in their shiny new gear. Structured, organized games that are listed on a computerized schedule kept on their mothers’ refrigerator doors. It’s okay. But I keep longing to open my front door and hear a raggy group of loggers asking, “We’re getting up a game—does anybody here want to play?” Of course we do!
*Note: The illustration is not in the book.