When I told my son, Waylon, that we were moving to Massachusetts, his very first reaction was, “Oh, man. Do they even have baseball out there?”
“Son,” I said, “I’m pretty sure they’ve heard of baseball in Boston.”
Now, I don’t want to say that the first thing I Googled about Marblehead was “baseball league.” But I’m pretty sure Waylon did. The boy loves to play baseball the way only a 12-year-old boy can, an enthusiasm almost dire in its intensity. At his oft-repeated request, back in Wyoming he and I used to spend hours in the batting cage. You know the drill if you know the game: toss a ucket, pick balls. Toss a bucket, pick balls. Repeat until dinner.
In fact, we worked at it so much that I worried we’d worked the fun clean out of the game. After all, when God reached down from heaven and tapped Abner Doubleday on the epaulet, He intended for every kid who ever picked up a summertime bat to have fun swinging it, not to turn it into a job. Those long sessions started to seem like one. But then the lad started slapping the ball around the park, and it all paid off. Work hard first, and the fun follows.
As for myself, I couldn’t get enough baseball. I joined in with a few others back in Torrington, Wyoming, who decided to found a travel ball club, because the only thing better than baseball is more baseball.
In keeping with the distances back home, travel ball in Wyoming means travel ball. We hit the road for days at a time, crisscrossing Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado for games, even making the long haul down to Phoenix for a tournament. Then came Little League, All-Stars, Districts… whew. By the time I looked up, summer was over, and by the time I blinked again, we were moving to Marblehead.
Since we’ve moved here, people have been talking about this ballpark called Gatchell’s. The kids love it down there, they told me. They hang out there the whole season long, and when they’re not playing, they watch their friends play. Sure, it gets a little chilly down there from time to time, but it’s where the magic happens. So I’ve had half an eye cocked to the calendar ever since, waiting for baseball season to arrive.
It did arrive, finally (not that you could tell from the cold weather). Waylon got selected to the Orioles, and I volunteered to help coach. Now, I’d told myself prior to coming to Marblehead that this season I would just be a spectator. For one thing, I felt like I’d gotten to town five minutes ago, maybe I didn’t need to be yelling at kids to hustle? (Why don’t they, though?) Second, I thought Waylon could use a break from Coach Dad. But two other things are true, in Wyoming or Massachusetts or any other state: first, every youth organization takes volunteers. And second, I don’t do well on the sidelines. I like to jump in.
Waylon and I loaded up the car for the short drive to Gatchell’s recently for the first game of the season. Both nervous and excited to be headed back out there, me probably more than him. An hour prior to game time, it was perfect sunny baseball weather. I felt about as good as you legally can stepping with a mouthful of sunflower seeds and a pitch counter in my hand. The field was in lovely condition, a credit to all the volunteers with Marblehead Youth Baseball, and all was ready. But then a very Marblehead thing happened: five minutes before first pitch, a sea fog rolled in to blanket the whole park. I’d never been in such conditions for baseball before. Could you even see a pop fly up there in all that mist? (Yes – the Oriole outfielders handled it well.)
Then someone flipped on the stadium lights. The green grass shimmered and the chalk lines fairly glowed. Mist rolled across the outfield. The boys in their bright uniforms trotted like sprites across the grass. Baseball sure does lend itself to poetry. That evening there in Gatchell’s, it wrote itself. You just have to take it in.
The Orioles won in a nailbiter over the Yankees, 4-3. Waylon played a decent game, snagged a couple hits, tossed a couple good innings from the mound. I got to coach third. It was glorious and pure and all baseball ought ever be.
I’ve been involved in maybe a couple hundred youth baseball games now. So while it wasn’t exactly a first time, it was my first time here, and in the fog, and with a new group of kids, on the cusp of a new season. Still, the same game we played back in Wyoming is the same game we played in Marblehead. And I’m happy just to be out on the field.
As always, if you’ve got an idea upon which I can embark for a Marblehead First Time, drop me a line at email@example.com.