Wednesday, October 17, 2007

'Scoring from Second' shows baseball is more than a game

Summer is already a distant memory. Days are shorter. Scraps of corn and soy are scattered across harvested fields. And baseball season has just ended.

For most of us, baseball really ended decades ago when we learned we were not talented enough to play at the college or professional levels. That’s tough to accept after so much time spent tossing wicked curves to our friends, ripping mammoth homers, and diving for line drives Brooks Robinson would have been envious to catch.

Sure, we knew better, but we loved the game — the smell of worn, leather gloves pressed against our faces, the sweet smell of newly mown outfield grass, and the rough feel of a wooden bat, knowing it possessed all kinds of magical possibilities.

More than 30 accomplished writers explore their own relationship with the sport in “Scoring from Second: Writers on Baseball,” a book edited by Phil Deaver, a man who once shagged balls and snared line drives as a kid in Tuscola.

These writers reveal that baseball does not enchant everybody. Instead, it taunts overweight, uncoordinated kids and pressures talented kids to the brink of suicide. Baseball also helps one deal with heartache, despair and death.

No sport affects us like baseball — at least, lyrically. Football may be about war and punishment, and basketball may be about power and style. But they lack the familial intimacy of baseball, a sports that connects fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and grandparents. “Scoring from Second” explores the reasons for this.

For example, baseball taught Jocelyn Bartkevicus to deal with life, and it taught her stepson to deal with death. Cancer, which had already ravaged the writer’s family, poised to attack a tiny 5-year-old boy who was more interested in chasing ice creak trucks than fly balls.

“Chris played right field, where we used to put the deaf girl when I coached my sister’s softball team,” she writes. “Out there, a kid gets bored. Chris stared up at the clouds, down at blades of grass, over at his elementary school. He put his hat on sideways, then backward. He threw it up in the air.”

Jocelyn and her son relied on baseball to help endure the roughest times.

Baseball taught Susan Perabo that baseball is not only for boys. Like several other writers, Susan refused to yield to this macho attitude. Instead, she fought to play baseball years before Title IX attempted to even the playing field for young women.

Eventually, she earned a chance to play a season for Webster University in St. Louis.

“There was a little bit of sun left in the sky and we had nowhere better to be,” she writes. “The thing is — the thing I see so clearly now — was that on that cool evening there simply was nowhere better to be, nowhere better than a baseball field, shagging flies in the outfield with my teammates, my friends and I playing simply for the love of it.”

This is a book even non-baseball fans can appreciate. Sure, the book has its share of lyricism — “baseball is as beautiful and irresistible and as irreversible as a first kiss.” But this book is not an ode to baseball as much as it is an exploration into the lives of people who happened to play the game wherever they could — in sandlots, back yards and on organized teams.

In the end, these writers realize baseball is just a game, like life, where the rules may seem a little clearer but the final score is never certain.

This review was originally published in the Charleston Times-Courier.
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