I remember being extra fidgety one Sunday morning while sitting in the stark white Presbyterian church of my childhood. I used to bounce my leg a lot when I was littler — something one of my own sons does now — and my dad would pinch my knee between his thumb and forefinger to stop.
This particular Sunday, my dad had done this a few times, each with increasing pressure. It was an autumn day and the Cincinnati Reds — the legendary Big Red Machine of the 1970s — were in baseball’s playoffs once again, and I was distracted. I really didn’t want to be there.
Finally, my dad had to whisper between gritted teeth to stop fidgeting.
“But I’m soooo bored,” I whispered back.
His response still echoes in my mind some 45 years later, “If you’re bored, you are not paying attention.”
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I’ve been accused of watching too much baseball. I do watch a lot, almost every game the Reds play over the summer, and the All-Star game, and the playoffs and the World Series. Yeah, I guess maybe I do watch too much baseball, but I never find it dull.
“It’s so boring,” my friends say.
“It’s so slow, waiting around for the pitchers to pitch and the batters to adjust the Velcro on their gloves,” they lament. “There’s no action.”
I guess that’s how you could see it. But I see it differently. I find my attention drawn to the edges where my imagination makes it even more interesting.
Let’s take a look at that scene in the batter’s box. See that hitter there, waiting for the pitch? Ignore him. Look around him. Behind him. Around the edge of your TV screen. See those three boys in rally caps, age 8 or maybe 9, hanging on every pitch, waving their rally towels to distract the pitcher. Man, they look like their having a great night, staying up late and rooting for the home team.
Now a left-handed batter is up. Behind him there’s a grandfather and a little girl laughing and talking as he points to this base, that player, teaching her the game he’s loved for so many years. Do you see her hair ribbons? They are the team colors.
At another game, in the front row, an elderly man wears a pink cap to every game so his wife knows he’s at the game and thinking of her.
Now there’s a pop-up over the netting. Look at that crowd, all trying for the ball, hoping for a souvenir, and smiling and laughing and cheering for the teenage boy who snowcones it just at the last minute.
Now, ignore the tears in my eyes as he hands it to his little brother and the crowd oohs and ahhs at the sweetness of the scene.
Pay mind to the ball boys and ball girls handling those sizzling fouls up the lines then turning and giving it to the kid with bushy hair and an oversized glove.
Often the camera operators will pan the crowd and what do the find? Families. Friends. Young couples. Happy people. Serious fans. Maybe a team of Little Leaguers in their uniforms.
Now, let’s look again on the field. See that player with the giant biceps and the long face in the batter’s box? Watch as he hits a three-run homer the day he returned from bereavement leave for the death of his father, his biggest fan. Cry with him, watch the hugs in the dugout, hear the crack in the announcer’s voice. Feel your heart soar and break in the exact same moment.
Another game now on Mother’s Day. The boys on the tilt are in pink hats. Some of the bats are pink. The lineup is listed as “Wendy Votto’s son” and “Maritza Puig’s son” and so on. It is not at all difficult to let your imagination go and see all those athletes as little boys batting off tees, dropping routine flies and stealing their first bases. In them, you see your own boys and girls on the fields of their youth. Perhaps they even become you striking out to lose the big game, or accidentally making your way around the bases on an error filled grand slam.
On yet another day, a boy named Eugenio smacks his 48th home run of the season and sets a record for the most major league homers for a native of Venezuela player. See the pride in his face, the joy of his teammates as they celebrate with a bottle of champagne and sing his native national anthem. Look just one more time, see the little boy dreaming of this day? He’s still in that grown man.
So, what makes baseball not boring to me? The stories. Good ones, happy ones, sad ones, ongoing ones. That’s why I watch baseball. It’s one long damn story and I am glad to be a part of it, from that first T-ball game I coached to the World Series games I’ll be watching soon — it is all one story and I love it.
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I’ve been telling my sons for 14 years now “if you’re bored, you’re not paying attention.” I think it has worked. They are content looking out a window on a long car ride or sitting through a long Easter Mass. I see them looking up, looking out, looking around the corners and at the edges because that’s where the stories live.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Peebles left a 30-year career in the restaurant business to become a stay-at-home dad to twin boys. He writes a blog, I Hope I Win a Toaster, that makes little sense. He coaches sometimes, volunteers at the schools, plays guitar, and is a damn good homemaker. He believes in hope, dreams, and love … but not computers.