Baseball Ready


I want to say a few words about baseball, the USA’s national pastime (though there are football and basketball fans who will vociferously debate that claim).

Baseball: played on brown dirt diamonds in grass green parks in every municipality in the country, not to mention scores of other countries. (Gaze down from any airplane window when taking off or landing on a clear day anywhere in the United States—you will see that familiar ballpark shape, usually more than one.)

Baseball: the game in which the majority of players, though always poised to make a play, nevertheless pass most of the time, like the fans, waiting. As writer Levi Stahl put it in a 2007 essay: “Baseball is a game of punctuated stillness, of dramatic seconds surrounded by casual hours. The quiet intervals of nothingness between pitches make up most of the time spent watching a game.”[1]

The first thing the best little league coaches teach their eight- and nine-year-old fielders is the concept of “baseball ready.” Knees bent, glove forward and open, eyes on the batter. Every pitch: be alert, attentive, mindful, present. Otherwise, it’s as Bob and Carol sang, famous words from songwriter Willy Welch: “Off in the distance, the game’s dragging on. / There’s strikes on the batter, some runners are on. / I don’t know the inning, and I’ve forgotten the score. / The whole team is yelling and I don’t know what for. / Suddenly everyone’s looking at me! / My mind has been wandering. What can it be?”[2]

I was chatting with my neighbor about baseball. He said his own little league career lasted exactly half an inning. Top of the first, the coach put him out in right field. The ball never came to him. Overcome with boredom, when his team finally came in from the field to bat, he quit. “Brutal,” he said. “Never again.” That’s a kid who knew his limits. Baseball is not for everyone.

Baseball is for me. When my younger son, Max, made Glastonbury’s fifteen and under American Legion travel team, and I learned they would be playing 25 games around Connecticut from early June to early August, and other parents were telling me, “your life is not your own for the next two months,” “you are now married to baseball,” “don’t make any vacation plans,” I was genuinely happy. I was happy for Max, certainly, and proud he’d made the team. But I was happy for me too. I enjoyed playing baseball as a kid. I enjoy watching baseball now.

I enjoy the physical game: the coordination required to hit a ball with a bat, or lay down a bunt, or catch a grounder in a glove and throw it, accurately, to first base ahead of the runner, or correctly judge the trajectory of pop fly deep to the outfield. I also enjoy what UUS:E member Dorothy Reiss, a life-long softball player pointed out. She spends the winter months practicing pitching by tossing food into her cat’s dish. She says, “you see, it’s spatial judgement, not just body strength.”

I enjoy the mental game: the way a player knows what they’re going to do with the ball if it comes to them in the field; the way a batter knows when to swing and when not to swing; the way a pitcher knows when to throw a fastball vs. an off-speed pitch.

I enjoy the spiritual game: the way the batter’s confidence at the plate can make all the difference; the way a fielder might bobble or drop the ball, but doesn’t give up, stays with it, still makes the play; the way players learn to keep themselves “baseball ready” to respond to any of thousand possibilities with every pitch; and the way Max’s team, who are 1-13, nevertheless keep showing up, keep doing their best, keep having fun, keep running out onto the field, inning after inning, with the improbable faith they are a better team than their record indicates.

Body, mind, spirit. After a few innings, I stop trying to tease them apart. The truth is, they blend beautifully together. I’m mindful that sages, mystics and yogis through the millennia have offered some version of this truth: the body-mind-spirit separation is an illusion. In reality, they are one. Of course, baseball isn’t unique in demonstrating this truth. Every sport invites this body-mind-spirit alignment. But perhaps because baseball is such a slow game, “dramatic seconds surrounded by casual hours,” the keen observer can more easily witness the aligning, can more easily discern body, mind and spirit working together, merging, blending. A seamless whole.


I can’t convey to you the depth of my enjoyment without talking about my dad. (UUS:E members and friends know that he died two months ago of a heart attack.) His father instilled a love of baseball in him. Briefly, Dad grew up two blocks from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, then the home of the Baltimore Orioles. In the winter of 1954, the Orioles announced a contest for local kids to serve as honorary batboys during the upcoming season. To attain this honor, submit a poem to the Baltimore Sun that explains why you want to be a batboy. My grandfather wrote a poem and signed Dad’s name to it. The Baltimore Birds are my favorite team / To see them play ball is my fondest dream / To be with the players and manager Paul / Is not only a dream, / But the greatest thrill of all! He won the competition, and served as batboy for home games for part of the 1954 season. He loved it. He had stories about meeting players like Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle when the Red Sox and Yankees came to town.

As an indication of just how much of an Orioles fanatic my grandfather was, know that his dying wish was to have his cremated ashes dropped from a helicopter over Memorial Stadium.

Dad loved introducing me and my brothers to the Orioles when we were kids. When visiting my grandparents in Baltimore, we would take lazy afternoon walks to the stadium to get tickets – upper deck, section 34 on the right field side, where Wild Bill Hagy used to lead raucous chants. Then we’d drive to a crab shack and buy crabs, steamed in Old Bay seasoning, eat them on my grandparents’ front porch in the humid, mid-Atlantic summer air, and chat with other fans as they walked by on their way to the game. Then we’d go to the game ourselves, gloves in hand, in case a foul ball should fly our way. Pure bliss.

Dad passed on the gift of playing baseball to us in the form of a mandate. We had to play little league once we got to third grade. We had no choice in the matter, which didn’t matter, because we loved it. After our first year in the minors, Dad became our head coach. Our team was Kitty’s Drive-in, then the AM/PM Mini-Mart. Our uniforms were orange with black lettering, a blatant Baltimore reference, a risky move up here in Yankees/Red Sox territory. I have so many memories—the way Dad worked on fundamentals with our teams—hitting, catching, throwing, fielding; the way he stressed the mental game—staying focused, present, baseball ready; the way he would walk out to the mound to calm down a pitcher who was getting frustrated, which frustrated the opposing teams’ coaches by making a slow game even slower; the way he taught us to work on our batting by playing stickball with the neighbor kids; the way, before every game, he would take us up to the local elementary school where we had painted a black strike zone on the brick wall, and throw tennis balls to us, very fast, at close range, to hone our timing. But perhaps most importantly, he never berated us or any other kid for making a mistake. He consistently encouraged us. An error or a strike out didn’t matter. It was part of the game. “You’ll get ‘em next time.”

There are countless ways parents raise their children, pass on values, skills, life lessons. Baseball was Dad’s way, one of them at least, one of his gifts. It was a way for him to be close to us, support us, teach us. I’m sure that’s the reason I experience so much joy in watching Max play today.


One day our star pitcher, Kenny, was in trouble. He was throwing wild pitches, walking batters, getting angry at himself. Dad took his characteristic slow walk out to the mound to help Kenny settle. The opposing coach, tired of Dad’s patient, game-delaying style, said something like, “Oh great, here we go again.” In front of everyone, Dad gave him the finger, which resulted in a three-game suspension. Dad, who coached us so well on not making mental errors, had just made a huge one. It was embarrassing. And worse, my brothers and I privately knew it probably wouldn’t have happened had he not had a few glasses of wine before (and possibly during) the game. This remains one of my most vivid childhood memories.

Levi Stahl says “baseball … consists largely of failure; even the best hitters have to accept that nearly six times out of ten, they’ll trudge back to the bench in defeat.”[3] There’s nothing extraordinary about the Mighty Casey striking out and the Mudville nine going down in fictional baseball infamy. As much as that classic poem serves as a cautionary tale about hubris, it also describes what happens in the game more often than not. The question in baseball is not whether you will fail, because you will. The question is how you will live with your failures, how you will come back from each one to play again, how you will hold your head high despite your unavoidable and very human proclivity to mess things up from time to time.

I can’t remember if my father expressed remorse for what he’d done. I can’t remember if he ever apologized. I don’t think he sat us down and said, “I shouldn’t have done it.” But I do know that his players and the other coaches forgave him, just like he was always forgiving us. When his suspension was over, we welcomed him back with open arms, the same way he welcomed us back to the dugout, without judgement, after every error, every mental mistake, every strike out. “You’ll get ‘em next time.”

The poet, Jill McDonough published a poem in 2012 called “We’re Human Beings.” It’s about then Boston Red Sox shortstop, Julio Lugo, whom fans booed one game when he came to bat after having made an error in the field the previous inning. “Lugo / wants you to know,” she writes, “he’s only / human: We’re human beings. / That’s why we’re here. If not, / I would have wings. / I’d be beside God right now. / I’d be an angel. / But I’m not an angel. / I’m a human being that lives right here.”[4] Julio Lugo wasn’t asking the fans to forgive him. If anything, he was forgiving the fans for booing him, for expecting perfection from a slow game riddled with imperfection.

When body, mind and spirit blend seamlessly, we are at our best. We play the game flawlessly. But as the mystics will tell you, reaching that state, let alone maintaining it, is very rare. More often than not, we’re out of alignment, and we’re not quite ready for what’s coming at us. Yes, baseball nudges us patiently toward alignment, toward moments of glory, but it also teaches us to live gracefully and graciously with our mistakes, even when they cost us the game. If we don’t learn that lesson, we’ll never make it back onto the field. That was a big part of the gift I received from my dad, and the gift I continue to receive from baseball.

Put me in coach. I’m ready.

May we all strive to be baseball ready.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Stahl, Levi, “Baseball and Verse, from Tinker to Evers to Big Papi,” fall, 2007, the Poetry Foundation. See:

[2] Welch, Willy, “Right Field.” See:

[3] Stahl, Levi, “Baseball and Verse, from Tinker to Evers to Big Papi,” fall, 2007, the Poetry Foundation. See:

[4] McDonough, Jill, “We’re human beings”, Where You Live (Salt Publishing, 2012). See: