With apologies to professional baseball players, who I realize are hard-working men, holding down a demanding job, and often supporting a family, and sometimes even charities, on top of it.
It’s really struck me this year how much baseball players are still like little boys when they’re out on the ball field.
Have you ever really watched them? The way they celebrate a great play or a win is very reminiscent of my son’s parks and rec baseball team–the joyful exuberance they express is completely unabashed. They run at each other and jump on each other, they high-five–they’re professional athletes, but when it’s time to celebrate, they still very much look like little kids, and I love that, because it’s so very obvious how much they love what they’re doing.
Their frustration with themselves after they make a bad play or strike out is also a very emotional reaction to what they’re doing. So is their anger at the ump after a bad call, and their complete dejection after a loss. Just as is the case with young boys playing games, their emotions are always very close to the surface.
Or how about when they’re in the dugout? If you watch closely, there are some very amusing antics that go on in there. Sunflower seed throwing, water dumping, joking around–all very boyish. Yes, they’re paying attention to the game, and ready to go when it’s their turn, but there’s a certain mischievousness going on in there throughout the game…
The superstitions and rituals are reminiscent of younger days, too. Everyone remembers the player in junior high or high school who refused to wash his lucky game socks–Major League Baseball is no different. What the players eat before a game, the socks they wear, the ritual at the plate or on the mound, even the way they greet each other when crossing home plate as they score, are all important to the game. And even the post-game celebrations can be steeped in ritual–I’ve been hearing a lot about the Cardinals cry of “Happy Flight” following a win, lately.
Or one of my favorite baseball oddities–the whole, “If your pitcher hits our guy, our pitcher will hit one of your guys next time,” thing. It’s the kind of retaliation you might expect on a playground full of fifth graders, yet these are adults, doing their jobs, and the retaliation still happens. They have each other’s backs, that’s for sure.
I think what I love most about it all is that, even though they’re paid professionals, there’s still an innocence there. They’re not taking themselves too seriously; they’re not taking the game too seriously. (At least not until the play-offs.) It all boils down to the fact that they’re still boys playing a game they love, a game they’ve played for a long time, and they’re still playing the way they did when they were kids and living their dream.