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A love letter to baseball

Jack Rooney | Friday, April 5, 2013

Though you might not be able to tell by the weather, the return of Major League Baseball this past Sunday night unequivocally heralds the arrival of summer. Indeed, the “boys of summer” have returned and they will eventually bring the warm weather with them. Aside from the knowledge that summer is on the way, Opening Day also gives life to English poet Alexander Pope’s words that “hope springs eternal.” Even hopelessly dejected fans in Houston, Miami and even the North Side of Chicago can find some solace in the unparalleled hope offered by Opening Day and a fresh start (full disclosure: my allegiance lies on the South Side of Chicago with my beloved White Sox). But more than hope and the imminent arrival of warm weather and sunshine, baseball remains one of the few things in my life that never fails to amaze and inspire me.
The simplicity and beauty of the game, whether played in a beat-up backyard on a warm summer night or under the bright lights of a big league stadium, is still enough to take my breath away. It has been six years since I have played organized baseball, but my love for the game remains as strong and passionate as it was the day I first picked up a baseball. Some say lower impact games like tennis and golf are “lifelong sports,” but I contend that, if you let it, the game of baseball can provide a lifetime of cherished memories and invaluable lessons.
I cannot help but shake my head when someone says any sport, let alone baseball, is “just a game” because it is so much more than a mere game to so many people. As journalist (and avid baseball fan) George Will said, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” Baseball is one of life’s great learning experiences as it is often one of the first games we learn as children. It teaches us how nine people need to work to become one team in order to accomplish anything. It teaches us to persevere through whatever obstacles may cross our paths. It also teaches us that it is okay to fail. After all, there are few other endeavors in life in which one can fail seven out of ten times and still be considered great.
For me, baseball has provided innumerable life lessons, but only a few make for good stories. Perhaps the best of these stories occurred in the summer of 2001 when a small, seven-year-old Jack Rooney got the unexpected invitation to try out for the Ridge Beverly Little League All-Star Team. Several days after the tryout, I waited inside on a gorgeous evening waiting for a phone call that I expected to bring good news. When my parents broke the unfortunate news that I did not make the team, my entire, tiny world collapsed in on me. But, after a few tears and plenty of hugs, I found myself back in my backyard, playing baseball with my brothers and neighbors.
Baseball also taught me to persevere through unexpected challenges, despite the urge to give up. When I was 10 years old and playing catcher for the Little League Florida Marlins, my head had an unfortunate collision with the ball while warming up the pitcher prior to the start of a playoff game. Needless to say, I was not wearing my catcher’s mask and a portion of my forehead ballooned to twice its normal size, all before the start of the game. Nevertheless, I proceeded to catch the entire game, which went into extra innings, on a brutally hot early June day, goose egg on my head and all. Earlier in that same season, also while catching, I made the bold decision to step in front of the plate as a runner barreled down on me. I refused to let him score, though, and I held on to the ball as we both tumbled to the dirt. When I popped up, ball in hand, I took off my mask to find that one of my teeth was ready to fall out. So, without a second thought, I pulled out the tooth, handed it to my dad on the bench, and proceeded with the rest of the game (which, for the record, we won).
In life, we experience bumps in the road much more severe than bumps on the head and teeth falling out, but from an early age, baseball conditions us for the greater challenges, none of which we ever expect. And when those bigger challenges do arise, I, for one, know I can always find comfort and release in the simplicity of a game of catch, the awesome power of the crack of the bat and the sheer, unparalleled beauty of baseball.
Jack Rooney is a freshman studying political science.  He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.