Generation to generation, pitching baseballs and values



The clarion call proclaims spring in sand lots, city streets, country roads, mega-stadiums and, of course, back yards.

My father told stories of pitching semi-pro ball in the hills of West Virginia where a dirt road threaded between home plate and the pitching mound. Play had to stop when a car came along. The same field had a knoll in center field that often kept the left and right fielders from seeing each other.

My daddy told me more than once he wanted me to play pro ball.

Actually, I was pretty darn good. I batted switch hitter in Little League with a .500 average. As a teen, I could throw a ball from center field that never went more than 10 feet off the ground, one bounce, into the catcher’s mitt, with the Ump’s cry, “You’re out,” to the runner’s surprise.

Memories of my youth!

Then, my eyes went bad. Dreams faded.

My field of dreams still gives me pleasure. My mind tells me of possibilities while my body reminds me of my limitations.

So, on a recent spring day my mind and heart yearned with anticipation as I said to my grandson, “Let’s play catch in the back yard.” He raced to get the ball and gloves. He humored me as my pitches were more balls than strikes to our fantasy batter in the bottom of the 9th with the score tied and the bases loaded.

Then, he lobbed the ball back with encouraging words: “Come on, Poppy! You can get ‘em out!” The throw was high, my glove went up to catch the routine ball that sped by, missing the glove, but not my head. Next thing I knew I was down on my knee, he was racing toward me, concern and worry flowing from his tongue and eyes.

Three days later, when my jaw still creaked with discomfort and the pain was pin-pointed above my ear, I noticed how quiet my usually loquacious grandson had become. I asked him, “So, what’s up? You seem caught up in your thoughts.”

“Nothing much,” he mumbled.

“So, is that ‘Nothing much’ like your mind has gone to zero and feels deadly dull? Or, is that ‘Nothing much’ because you can’t wrap your mind and heart around the potential deadly consequences of throwing a baseball that hit your Popster in the noggin?”

He wryly looked at me and said, “It’s hard to hide some things from you. I’ve been feeling guilty about throwing the ball that hit your head and thinking about how awful it could be. You could have had a concussion or even died and it would have been my fault.”

“That’s heavy! Not so much because you are wrestling with the potential consequences—but because you made the giant leap to assume responsibility for the whole event.”

He nodded.

“But,” I said, “you weren’t responsible for everything. Fact—you didn’t throw the ball to intentionally hit my head, like some pitchers have actually done. That would be a legitimate reason for real guilt. Fact—I failed to catch a perfectly good throw that in my youth I could have done without looking. Fact—Once you threw that ball, it was literally and figuratively out of your hands.”

I called it like a good ump: “No Fault! You aren’t a Superman who can turn the clock back and take the pitch back. A lot of folks heap guilt on themselves rather than accepting their limitations, their lack of power to prevent things from happening. This happens often when we don’t want someone we love to age and die. It’s easier to feel guilt than to feel and acknowledge our limitations.”

I realized this was a lot to unload on him. “Am I making any sense to you?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so. You want me to understand that since I didn’t throw the ball with the intent to hurt you—it’s not a moral issue. I’m not guilty. The other thing I’m hearing is the guilty feeling keeps me from facing my scary and sad feelings about losing you someday.”

“I think you just pitched a strike!” I said. “And, I do want to play catch with you again.”

He jumped up. I sat up straighter—and felt the ache. “Ahhh,” I said, “but not just yet.”

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