Yesterday, on my ride to Peoria I hit the back roads again. Highway 24 was a bit bumpy as I rode past fields of soybeans and corn. The corn was dark green and lush. So tall that sometimes I couldn’t see over the top of it. “Knee high by the fourth of July” my old pappy used to say and this corn would have no problem beating that goal. Scattered along the roadside were beautiful wildflowers: buttercups, black eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace, some purple flowers that looked like asters, and coral colored lilies. I love riding through the small towns. Coming into Rushville I spotted a bunch of cars parked near a baseball field, and I pulled over and parked. It seemed like you had a choice of a purple tee shirt if you were a Rushville All-stars fan or an orange Macomb Bomber shirt if you were a supporter of the visiting team of 9 and 10 year olds. I stood out a bit with my long hair, thick bike trousers, big boots and a sleeveless black Harley shirt with a skull on the pocket. Nevertheless, the men and dad/coaches were friendly and the women smiled as they pulled their youngins in closer to them as I walked around. Then silence descended, a young girl started singing the National Anthem, folks stood up and put their hands on the hearts and a cheer went up at the end. The umpire called the coaches to home plate, lineup cards were exchanged, local rules explained and a batting helmet was tossed out because it had a crack in it.
I love baseball. Not necessarily watching it but going to a game, and the smaller the game the better. Little league matches. Semi-professional – where you can get close to the field, hang on to the chain link fence, smell the cut grass and remember when you were a kid.
I thought about my time in Northern Ireland and how some of us got a little league team going. It was a challenge trying to explain the rules to kids who had never seen a game before. To constantly remind them that no, they weren’t allowed to actually throw the hard baseball at, and try to hit, the opposing player in order to get them “out”. It wasn’t easy teaching the Irish kids how to throw a ball overhand since all their sports involved kicking balls or batting them. Over and over we had to show them which hand to put on top of the bat they were swinging. There were no designated baseball fields in Ireland (we brought our own bases and put out cones), no fancy uniforms, though that would come later (once we found a team to play – our nearest competitors were two hours a way down in Dublin.), no announcers, no anthems but every kid would play.
I thought about how wonderful a gift baseball was –not only to the kids playing, the grandparents watching but an unarguable gift and blessing to the world, since it is now played internationally. Ireland itself has had a very successful child and adult national team for quite a few years now.
In this time of political divisions in our country and a sometimes sullied reputation abroad it helps to remember that three of the greatest gifts the USA has given to the world are: The American Constitution, Jazz music and baseball.
The vision of democracy and equality, the thrilling inspiration of the arts and the sheer joy of respectful competition, good sportsmanship and camaraderie.
Ride safely this 4th!