Meadville Tribune

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August 15, 2011

For the ‘glove’ of the game ... baseball’s memories hard to beat

MEADVILLE — Baseball is an amazing sport. It has a rhythm and flow that even a non-sports fan can appreciate. It’s not timed and is over only when the appropriate number of outs are made and the number of innings are expended.

There is a beautiful aesthetic about the field with the really green grass and the earthy brown tones of the infield, warning track, foul territory and the pure-white chalked lines and bases. The skills required to pitch, hit and field are intricate yet simple, if that is possible.

Pure reaction and physical ability affect the completion of all those tasks — and superimposed on a plan or strategy — and oftentimes a work of pure artistry is the blissful result. If that isn’t amazing enough, add in the logistics of moving players and selecting plays or pitches against an opposing team with its talented (or not) players and strategy and you have a pretty complex game.

Baseball is more than all that, though. It has endured and marked much of American history. It has enthralled most of the kids who have played it and lives in a special part of their memories. Baseball has inspired some of the most popular movies of our generation, such as “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural.”

The most sophisticated thinkers and writers will wax poetic when recalling their first major league ballgame, and very few ever forget their own “great” plays and the fantasies that compelled them to play endless hours of the game. I thought I knew the length and breadth of baseball’s hold on my soul, but an event a few days ago further imprinted the game on my consciousness.

My family took my grandson to his first big league ballgame. Henry is 3-and-a-half and is totally dedicated to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Don’t ask me how that happened. He is a stocky, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, bronze-haired kid who honestly thinks he looks like Andrew McCutchen, center fielder for the Pirates. McCutchen, in case you don’t know it, is a very slight, African-American, with dreadlocks. Henry looks as much like McCutchen as I look like Brad Pitt, but I for one am not going to disabuse him of his misconception.

Last Sunday was “Kids Day” at PNC Park and my grandson was going to see his hero. Unfortunately, McCutchen was sat out. Henry was temporarily aghast, but rallied enough to scream “Go Bucs, Go Bucs,” anytime anybody with a Pirates uniform walked by; coaches, players and even the trainer heard him scream. My family had great seats, two rows behind the Pirates dugout, so all the players could easily see the little tike in his official Pirates jersey (that his grandfather paid $70 for! Am I nuts or what?!) and new Pirates hat.

Just before the game, the Pirates pitchers came in from batting practice because pitchers hit in the National League. Henry, seeing the players, began his endless chant when one of them, Jeff Karstens, spotted him and began pointing toward him. Henry had no idea what Karstens wanted, and the pitcher had to get Henry’s father’s attention to bring the boy down to the rail next to the field. When he got there, Karstens removed his batting gloves and GAVE them to the kid. Henry has slept with those gloves and, days later, is still wearing them.

Of course, they are 10 sizes too big, but you can’t convince this kid of that. Karstens also got another pitcher to autograph Henry’s hat! Now you might say, OK, no big deal — a pitcher’s batting glove. It is a big deal, though, because the Pirates were in the middle of a nine-game losing streak and Karstens had a bad outing in his last game. He easily could have just waved to the kid and gotten lost in his preoccupations. He didn’t, I think, because he realized that baseball, and the appreciation of it, is a marvelous gift that is passed from one generation to another and, in the final analysis, starts with kids and finishes with the children in all of us.

Now I have to confess that I was not a big Jeff Karstens fan, but I can assure that I wish him all the good fortune possible, because he must be a pretty good guy. The whole incident restored my faith in professional athletes and, more importantly, made me love the game of baseball even more.

As a postscript, Henry got to see McCutchen pinch hit in the eighth inning. McCutchen grounded into a force play and the Pirates lost their 10th straight game. As far as Henry is concerned, though, McCutchen and his teammates are doing just fine, thank you.

DeSantis is a Meadville resident.

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