He is focused. He listens to every word of instruction and does his best to make his eight-year-old body respond and create the desired result. At most times, it is hard to get and keep his adolescent attention, but not today … not now. Something changes when Caleb holds a baseball in his hand.
His attention to instruction and detail become sharp. I stand to his side and examine his every move. I hear his dad, standing roughly forty-feet away reminding his son to keep his eye on the target and to throw with his full body and not his arm. Caleb respond’s and I can hear the ball make a sizzling sound after it leaves his hand then pops into his father’s glove. To some, it means nothing but to me it is melodious. The sound is a pleasing to young Caleb’s ears ... and to mine.
“Nice pitch!” His father rewards his son with words of approval and encouragement. Caleb doesn’t break a smile, but steps back into position and stares at his father’s glove. The coaching and positive words of affirmation continue.
There is something about young boys and baseball that I find spiritual. I loved the game but was never skilled. The baseball talent gene seemed to have skipped a few generations after my father, but has landed firmly in the body of his great grandson. Caleb doesn’t respond to coaching out of obedience. He craves it … desires it. He loves baseball and passionately connects with anyone who can help him improve. Caleb would have a baseball or a bat in his hand from the time his clear blue eyes open in the morning until he falls asleep and the bat slowly slips out of his hands … and I don’t understand why.
From where does this baseball obsession come? Caleb’s mom is a Pastor and his father an engineer. As a child his mom was a swimmer and an equestrian and his father was into biking. Neither had a passion for baseball. It’s a mystery to me why Caleb is in love with America’s Pastime, but I love watching his determination fueled by his desire to play well.
Arlene and I am in Sierra Madre staying with Caleb and his family. I was featured speaker this week for the San Diego City Club, sponsored by the San Diego Padres and Madres. Two weeks ago, I was featured speaker for the Boston Red Sox and their “Great Fenway Park Writer’s Series.” I spoke at both events because of my book, “Playing with the Enemy,” the story of my father’s baseball career. I have been a guest speaker for many baseball events all over the country including the “Baseball Goes to War” exhibition at the World War II Museum in New Orleans and the American Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I vicariously enjoy a baseball journey through my father’s story of baseball and war … and now, more than ever, through the eyes of a little boy.
Baseball, to most, is a sporting event, where winning is the goal. But for me, baseball is a uniquely American artform. The sounds of the game are musical and the movements a dance. To most, baseball is a team sport but to me, its all about the individual. A team doesn’t stand on the pitcher’s mound and stare down a batter when the bases are loaded, and the game is on the line. A team doesn’t step into the batter’s box, but a single artisan-warrior with a bat in his hand. Baseball exemplifies the American Spirit in ways no other activity can.
The games are played in stadiums not suitable for any other sport and the stadiums are not uniform in structure and size. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are often referred to as cathedrals. Wrigley and Fenway were built to fit onto a lot in a neighborhood, so the design of the field was dictated by the homes and streets. To me, Wrigley has more in common with Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony than Soldier Field, the home of the Bears. The history of the game lives on in the old stadiums, as the ghosts of Ted Williams in Boston and Ernie Banks in Chicago still walk to the plate. The spirit of Ernie looks up at Caleb eating crackerjacks out of a box and say’s “Let’s play two today!”
What is Caleb’s baseball future? I hope he continues to love the game for a lifetime. I pray the lessons he learns on the field will help guide his life. I hope that perfecting his skills and nuances of his performance drive his activity more than his desire to win. Most importantly, I want him to have fun. If the fun ever leaves him, I hope he changes his focus to whatever passion makes his pulse increase.
Caleb cannot know or understand … but watching the way he strives for perfection brings joy to my heart and tears to my eyes. Seeing him pick up his bat and look at it as if he is holding something sacred … well … I know that my dad is looking down and he is pleased.
Gary W. Moore is a syndicated columnist, speaker and author of three books including the award-winning, critically acclaimed, “Playing with the Enemy.” Follow Gary on Twitter @GaryWMoore721 and at www.garywmoore.com.