I fell in love with baseball listening to Red Sox games on an old AM radio and playing stick ball with my brother on a gravel-strewn spit of land on the other side of the river. We had to race the tide each way to play on a little field tucked away in the shadow of a burned-out factory. We weren’t very skilled; we just loved the game and couldn’t wait to get back to the field each day. And, oh yes, we argued every strike and every out and cried and laughed and didn’t want it to ever end. We were just 8 after all.
Later, when my brother could drive, we shared a few summer nights chasing fun through the lake region of New Hampshire, tuning in to the Red Sox game on the way to our home just north of Boston. The closer we got, the clearer and stronger the voice of the Red Sox and the more certain we were headed in the right direction — no small thing chasing black macadam through curving country roads on moonless summer nights.
Radio gave us a sense we knew what Fenway Park looked like with the Green Monster in left and that tough corner in far right although at that time we’d not been there. It came to life in the vivid colors of the mind by the soothing voices of Bump Hadley and Curt Gowdy. Bump – a great name a mother gave her son and a gift across the miles to thousands of listeners.
It’s easy to fall in love with baseball. It’s the most egalitarian of sports. Basketball favors the tall; football, the strong but baseball — anyone can play baseball. Some of the greatest players of all time — think Yogi Berra and Pee Wee Reese and today’s Dustin Pedroia — were and are neither tall nor particularly strong. They rose to the top of the game by hard work and were driven to excel by pride and love of the game.
Good coaches can teach the rest. Good coaches teach pitching, throwing, fielding, running, hitting. No one can teach heart. Some players have it from the git go; a fortunate few find it within themselves under pressure, but heart isn’t gifted. You have it or you develop it. As true in sport and life, heart takes us further than talent. It is heart which propels the ordinary to the extraordinary. The only demand such a heart makes is that we have a passion for life, that we commit to give our best to what we love, that we lose ourselves in the effort and we give generously of ourselves to others.
If we don’t have heart, we can’t face our fears, we can’t live life to the fullest, we can’t share our lives, we can’t dream big and we can’t lift up our hearts to identify with something larger than ourselves, perhaps the most noble human achievement.
Little League came to town that year. I tried out. No one wanted to be a catcher so I knew it was meant for me. Winning never mattered — just playing was reward enough. I did well but realized I had a long way to go. I was so emotional about playing this game I loved, it seemed my heart broke at every little setback. Of course, I was just 8. Good coaches, an occasional stern look from my mother and a few more years under my belt helped me control my emotions while hanging on to the passion. Always the passion.
I got lost in Little League baseball that year and through it learned to channel my energy, to get the best from myself and to be a good teammate. I learned that the point is not in a score but is almost always in the effort, in the many small achievements of daily life. Giving my best effort to the sport I loved taught me to give all that and more to family, friends and profession.
Most important Little League baseball gave me a structure to follow my heart for the first time in my young life. I reaped the fullness of heart that that brings and set a course for future tests. For the youngsters of all ages still reading this I encourage you to be proud of who you are, celebrate your achievements no matter how small they may seem at the moment, strive to be a great teammate and friend and always do your best. Perhaps the best advice I ever heard was my mother saying to me more than once that I should “sleep on it and try again tomorrow.” Amen to that.