The season has ended. The dust has settled, the stands have emptied, and the bats and balls and well-worn caps put away until next year. Our national pastime is placed on a shelf, there to gather dust for another dark winter, until with the spring the boys of summer return, and we can hear the crack of the bat and the umpire’s call once more. Until then, we are left standing on the empty field, staring off toward the setting sun, here to reflect on another year of the game that makes us believe.
When I was ten years old, the world was still a new and simple place. I still had to look upward at much of it, yet I took in the sights and sounds of childhood from beneath the brim of a baseball cap; a Cleveland Indians cap that I treasured above most other things I owned. I listened to the games, grinned with delight when I found Charles Nagy or Jim Thome in the pack of Upper Deck baseball cards I’d just bought. I stayed up late to watch the Tribe when they played on the West Coast, and fell asleep to the sound of Tom Hamilton calling the plays.
Those were good days. They were days of heroes and titans, of huge bats and solid pitching and lofty expectations. Jacobs Field was heaven on Earth, a place of navy and red with sold-out crowds and smiles all around. Everyone was having fun, but for me, it was something deeply important, something special. It was something I wouldn’t fully appreciate for so many years, until I was older, and the world wasn’t so new, or so simple…
Over time, my heroes grew old. One by one, they moved on and retired. The Indians languished as their game changed, forcing them to change with it. There were a lot of tough losses, a lot of hard seasons. Faces came and faces went, so quickly that at times they blurred together. The stadium emptied, the seats left vacant. For some, the memory of the ‘90s Indians who’d defied the world and fought so hard seemed to vanish.
But not for me.
I never gave up. Not once. I never put the hat away, never disowned my team, never perused the standings thinking “So, what winning team should be my team now?” I didn’t remain faithful because I’m special in some way. I’m not. I did so because, as with all faithful fans, I had formed a bond with my team, something transcendent, something rooted not in the superficial nature of sports, but in deeply personal sentiment.
Every Indians game…on the radio, on TV, at Jacobs field on sunny summer afternoons, my dad was there with me. We bonded, in part, over our love for the Cleveland Indians. He loved the Indians, and had loved them far longer than I had known them, yet in time I came to love them too. Not because I enjoyed watching my team win, but because the single most important person in my world loved them. As a child, I looked up to the Indians greats…Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy…but I didn’t look up to them because I wanted to play baseball. I looked up to them because my single, greatest hero on Earth looked up to them. And if they were great in his eyes, they could do no wrong.
The years have flown by. America, as a great man once said, has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, and with it we have all changed. The game we all grew to love on those summer evenings by the radio has changed as well, and yet in so many ways it has remained the same. Baseball, it is said, has marked the time. For so many generations of Americans, baseball is more than just a sport, like football or basketball…it’s a tradition. For reasons no one can fully explain, it is baseball that stirs our emotions more than any other sport. When NFL players sit in front of the cameras after the game, they aren’t wearing their own team’s gear…they wear the caps of their favorite baseball teams…the same caps they’ve worn since they were waist-high to their fathers. Baseball is called our “national pastime” for a reason: it’s a part of us, hearkening back to a simpler time, not just for our nation, but for each of us personally.
Looking back now through clearer lenses as an adult, I’ve come to realize that baseball taught me many things…
Baseball taught me that you can’t win every game…but if you keep trying, you can still win the season.
That just because you’re down, that doesn’t mean you’re out. Even the best player ends up on the DL eventually.
That patience and hard work are virtues, which pay off in the end, even if it takes a very long time.
That keeping hope and being faithful are their own rewards. You may lose a lot, for a long time, but when that great moment comes, it feels that much sweeter for the waiting and hoping.
Baseball taught me to never give up. To be grateful in victory and gracious in defeat. To take great joy in all I do and care about, and to find as many things to take joy from as I can…to keep these things close, and treasure the moments I spend making good memories, as those memories are there to comfort us when times are tough.
Though these past nineteen years have been hard at times, I’ve never wavered, as through it all I kept in mind those brilliant summer days at Jacobs Field, cheering for the Indians with my dad…the stadium mustard, the souvenir baseballs, the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowds. In a way, those glorious days were as close to heaven as I’ve ever come, and even in my darkest hours, the memories I have of watching my beloved Indians with my dad have provided a ray of light; a path back to a time when the world was new and simple, when I cheered for my beloved Tribe from the home my parents filled with as much love as anyone could provide. When I watch the Indians, even today, everything seems good, and whether they win or lose, I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.
It isn’t always easy to love a losing team, but it will always be worth it in the end. Baseball is a game of sentiment and heart, and one that takes more than a little patience and belief. And even on the darkest days, as we, the faithful, stand on that empty field, gazing into the setting sun, there is nowhere on Earth we would rather be.