Baseball – Far More Than Just a Game
by MIKE KRAVIK
I love baseball.
One of the saddest sights in the world is the empty baseball diamond on a chilly day in the dead of winter. As the corridor to March opens, that dreadful sight retreats and the promise of a new season arrives. This is the time of year that baseballs and optimism fill the air but so do questions with very few definitive answers.
Start with the Texas Rangers. Have they recovered from 2011’s post-season trauma and what do we make of their slow start in Spring Training? Can Japanese superstar Yu Darvish become a major league ace? Is this Josh Hamilton’s last year with the Texas Rangers?
What about over in Frisco? Will fans of the Roughriders get to see prized prospects such as Mike Olt or Jurickson Profar this season? Can the TCU Horned Frogs maintain their powerful status in college baseball? Dallas Baptist made a huge post-season run in 2011 – are they a fluke or are they for real?
North Texas area high schools are filthy with talent and district play is in full swing. Expectations are high for schools such as Rockwall-Heath, Flower Mound and Southlake Carroll. There’s a chance you haven’t heard names such as Jake Thompson, Sheldon Neuse or Billy McKinney in the past but you will this spring.
There are kids all over North Texas who have made the jump from rec ball to select ball that are struggling for the first time because they’re now playing against kids of equal or greater ability. Some kids have just started to pitch while others have made the transition to “coach pitch” from t-ball.
There are also several thousand parents throughout this area buzzing with excitement right now because their four year olds will start playing t-ball in May. I know this because in 1999 I was one of those parents.
My son is now playing for his high school team and is making an impact on the varsity while my younger nephews are splashing around their JV teams. This is such an electrifying time of year on the calendar and a big reason why is because the off-season is over and baseball is back.
I don’t like delving too deeply into my own psyche but I do know that baseball provides a powerful connection between parents and their kids. My father coached me when I was growing up and also took me to several major league baseball games. I was a baseball freak at an early age and yes, I puddled up the first time I saw “Field of Dreams.” As I became older my life changed. I drifted away from baseball but came back to it more and more after my son was born and he began to play.
A confluence of events happened in 2003 that brought me back front and center to the church of baseball. That was the baseball season the impossible seemed possible as both the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs looked like they might go to or finally win a World Series. My family was also rooting for the impossible to be possible on a much different level because on Valentine’s Day of 2003 my father was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.
That spring, my son played on two baseball teams and my older daughter was on a softball team. I threw myself into helping coach every team they played on because baseball was a shelter and a great escape from the reality of going to the hospital to helplessly watch my dad die a little more each day.
After seeing my father undergo 48 doses of radiation and all the effects, it was easier to have compassion and gain the proper perspective when a ground ball went through the legs of an 8 year old boy.
That summer my daughter’s team lost in the playoffs and my son’s Little League All-Star team made it to the regional semi-finals. That fall the Red Sox and Cubs both lost soul crushing Game 7s in the playoffs. My father died on June 27 of that year and while it’s true that baseball is designed to break your heart, 2003 was the year it helped mend mine and I am forever grateful.
The Texas Rangers season starts on April 6 and all those questions about the team will be answered soon enough in the next few months. Till then, I cannot wait to go to the ballpark, get something cold to drink, eat soggy nachos and listen to Chuck Morgan play “Centerfield” over the loudspeakers while the Rangers make another run at greatness. Play ball!