It’s a hot summer evening in a Midwestern town. The grass is glimmering in the bright lights, contrasting with the brown dirt of the base cut-outs and pitcher’s mound. On the field, nine to a side, young men are dreaming of making The Show, although one suspects that in their hearts they know most of them won’t. There are no big city teams flush with cash, no mega-millionaire superstars.
The park is half-filled with fans, many of them families out for an evening together. It’s a diverse slice of America; white, African-American, Latino, a few Asian. Young boys, and a few girls, sitting in the stands with their gloves on, awaiting a hoped-for foul ball souvenir. Dinner is bratwurst or a chili cheese dog, followed by peanuts or popcorn.
The sights of the game are like fine art, even with a few flaws. The pitcher rearing back and unleashing a mid-nineties fastball, followed in the next pitch with a knee-buckling curve. The ballet-like perfect execution of a double play: the shortstop cleanly fielding a hard-hit ground ball, smoothly throwing to second base, an acrobatic pivot and a hard throw to first. The center fielder breaking back at the crack of the bat, running down a deep fly ball near the wall. A baserunner sprinting from first with the pitch, sliding into second with a stolen base just ahead of a well-thrown ball from the catcher. There are also a few errors as young men are trying their hardest, doing their best, to show their skills.
The sounds of the game are everywhere. Vendors moving through the stands shouting “peanuts and Crackerjacks,” and “cold beer, get yer cold beer.” A fast ball exploding into the catcher’s mitt, or the crack of the bat as a hard-hit ball rises into the night sky. The cheers of the crowd at a well-played ball or timely hit. Standing and loudly singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the 7th inning stretch.
After a taut, well-played game, it’s the bottom of the eighth inning. The home team gets runners at first and second, then a solid line drive deep into the right-centerfield gap that scores two runs. A quick 1-2-3 top of the ninth, and the South Bend (Ind.) Silverhawks have beaten the Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs.
Cliches? Perhaps. But also vignettes of a minor league ball game, similar to those played every night in small and medium-sized cities around America. All part of the continuum of baseball, stretching back for decades, and the young men playing stretching forward into the decades to come.
Far from the wars and rumors of wars, the political dysfunction, the rushed stress of the Washington, D.C., scene; it’s the perfect way to begin a summer vacation in the America I love.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Adviser at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.
Baseball and mitt photo, Paul Orr / Shutterstock.com