When people ask me what I love, I usually respond, “God, my family, and St. Louis Cardinals baseball … in that order.” Other than the Razorbacks, Arkansas (my home state) doesn’t have much in the way of athletic bragging rights. Both when I was a kid and now, The Natural State hasn’t a single professional sports team to its name. Thankfully, KMOX—the radio station in Missouri that broadcasts Cardinals’ games—had an amazing range.
I spent countless evenings lying on my bed, listening to the play-by-play commentary of the amazing Jack Buck. And because of him and my Papaw, who taught me how to watch and truly appreciate baseball, I fell in love with the game in all its timeless elegance. And, believe it or not, having multiple sclerosis helps me appreciate it all the more.
One reason is because MS keeps me focused on my life and anticipating what’s next. I don’t let moments pass me by unheeded the way I used to. I take in every experience fully, sucking the marrow from the bones of a moment to remember it in its full technicolor glory many years from now.
Now that winter is drawing to a close, Spring Training has begun in Florida and Arizona—home to the “Grapefruit” and “Cactus” leagues, respectively. Players are suiting up, stretching out, and running drills once again in preparation for Opening Day on April 2, 2017. And, as a fan, my mind also is turning to the season ahead—162 glorious games filled with seeing-eye singles and groundouts, stolen bases and double plays, big bombs and small ball. If your team is skilled and lucky enough, they’ll get into the playoffs and make the amazing journey all the to the World Series in the fall. I am ready to savor every moment of it.
Whether it’s during Spring Training or the regular season, I always get to a stadium right as the gates open. But I’m not there to get autographs or speak to players (though I must admit I do just that when the chance presents itself). Instead, I stop off for a beverage and bratwurst (topped with sauerkraut, onions, and spicy brown mustard, of course), head to my seat, settle in, and watch the players warm up.
Over and over again, infielders practice fielding ground balls, making shovel passes, and working through the steps of a rundown. Outfielders glide over the grass, finding the most efficient route to track down fly balls and reel them in. Every player takes his turn in the cage to work on his swing, filling the stadium with the glorious sound of wood smashing into leather. The goal of all this seemingly boring work is to train their bodies to do it all automatically when the time comes—to trust their legs and arms and hands to make amazing plays and keep their brains from getting in the way.
My other favorite thing to watch is field grooming, which takes place as batting practice and fielding drills draw to a close. The groundskeepers bring out rakes, hoses, and mops and get to work making the already beautiful field look perfect and shining. They mow the outfield, water down the dirt of the infield, outline the batter’s box and lay out the base lines with pristine white chalk, place the bases, and rake the pitcher’s mound smooth.
Yet, despite all the practice and the meticulous attention to detail, there are still problems. A ground ball finds a divot in the ground, one that was overlooked during field prep, kicks to the left, away from the player who was headed to meet it. A fly ball gets caught in a gust of wind. Players trip. They misjudge routes. Miscommunication between teammates happens. It’s all part of the game.
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