A Love Letter to Lanie
Ron Karpinski ©1997
Sorry I haven't written lately. You are right, I have neglected you terribly; but, please understand, it is springtime. In the spring, a man is a boy again, and love consumes his soul. He dreams not of pretty girls and flowers, though; rather, his mistress is the great game of . . . BASEBALL!
Since you are a girl and do not understand, I will explain it to you. Baseball is the national pastime. It is a sport played on a diamond-shaped field of lush green grass. The grass is trimmed around paths of rust-brown dirt raked to perfection.
On warm afternoons, fans sit in the stands and watch grown men cavort on the field, playing a kid's game. Great players are named Hammerin' Hank, Babe, Dizzy, Lefty, the Say-Hey Kid, the Splendid Splinter, and Stan the Man. Each of them is what each of us once wanted to be; they are the stuff of our dreams.
But baseball is not just a game, Lanie. It is both an art form and a science, graceful and free-flowing yet played with precision and within limits. Here's an example: In the bottom of the second inning, the score is tied at two and two, with two out. Two runners are on base, with a count of two balls and two strikes on the batter. The pitcher winds and delivers -– a slow curve.
As the ball approaches the plate, eight players in the field rise on their toes as one, shifting their weight, leaning, anticipating the flight of the ball off the bat. Striding into the pitch, the batter sends it streaking up the gap in right-center. Even before the batter swings, fielders are on the move. Each hustles to fill a hole, back up the play, and line up for the throw coming in from the outfield. Runners circle the bases, and fielders prepare to tag them as they race for home.
Performance is measured not just in runs scored but also by a myriad of individual statistics. Each movement on the field is captured on the official scorecard. Oh, the numbers we record to devour and digest!
Numbers keep us warm on cold winter nights, when The Game lies in slumber. They create balance and depth: batters hit for average with singles, doubles, triples, and homers. Three hits in ten, and a player is one of the best.
Hurlers have numbers, too: wins and losses, earned run average, strikeouts, and saves. Mere inches separate fair balls from foul ones, hits from errors. An official scorer makes the call, marks it in the book, and it becomes a footnote in the history of the game.
The game has a jargon all its own. The pitcher throws a slider high and tight, but ol' Murph muscles it out, off the wall in right. A broken bat yields a bloop fly ball. A Texas leaguer hangs in the air, then falls just short of the diving fielder's outstretched arms. A line-drive is a frozen rope. A runner can glide into second standing up or hit the dirt in a fade away hook-slide. Catchers wear the tools of ignorance. The third-baseman guards the hot-box.
Sounds from the grandstand ring in my ears, long after the last out. Each play runs over and over in my mind. The crack of the bat brings the crowd to its feet; and, for a split second, the roar drowns out all else. A familiar voice screams in the press box above, "Holy Cow! It could be, it might be, it is! A home run!" In the isle to my left, a leather-lunged vendor shouts, "Popcorn, peanuts, candy! Come git yer ice-cold beer here!"
Girls? No, not now, Lanie, for there is no time. Spring has come, and baseball is in the air; and a man must follow his team. The season has begun; and, for this fan of the game, The Game goes on. Check with me again in November.
With deepest respect and loving best wishes,
Ron Karpinski, Esquire