CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…
This is the time of year when even people who don’t understand or care about baseball begin to follow it, at least a little bit. I’m not one of them. I have been engrossed in baseball since the start of the “hot stove” season, --which stretches from two days after the World Series to the start of spring training. Every year over the last seventy.
I have often wondered why I love baseball so much. Sports in general, but especially baseball. I’ve even written about it before. But recently I have come to understand that the reason is quite simple: Uncle Johnny.
Ron and Cindy Wetzell, like all people who get old enough, and are smart enough, are moving to smaller quarters. That gets tricky, because you have to get rid of stuff. Often LOTS of stuff. But not baseball stuff.
Ron was a baseball coach. Even wrote a book about how to play the sport. He has dozens of practice balls, expensive state of the art batting Ts, gloves, bats, etc. He wants to give the equipment to some youth league, preferably one for disadvantaged kids. But they have the same problem he has—storage space. He says that he will not part with that equipment until he can find a worthy recipient, meaning—at least in part—one with storage space, even if Cindy makes him sleep in the yard because the baseballs are in their bedroom.
I understand that. Moving into a small condo, we have gotten rid of whole rooms of furniture, thousands of books, all kinds of hobby equipment, but I have kept the bats Uncle Johnny gave me when I was ten years old.
John Hubert Pond was my mother’s youngest brother. Even though my father’s name is also John, Mother always said she named me for her brother, not her husband. At age 26, out of the Marines after WWII, he was just starting his hardware and lumber business in Francisco, IN, when we moved from Indianapolis to our hardscrabble farm, five miles from Francisco. He was a bachelor in a small town with few eligible women. He was lonely. He knew I was lonely, too, out there on the farm, with no car, no bicycle, no playmates.
In the evenings, after a long day of literally constructing his business buildings with his own hands, he would drive up to our house and hit flies to me in the field we called “the orchard,” because it had a few apple and peach trees. It was mostly pasture that sloped up on either end and down into the middle. I would dash up and down the slopes, in the long grasses, Uncle Johnny’s small old-fashioned fielder’s glove on my left hand, tracking the flight of the ball, feeling an uncommon satisfaction whenever the ball would thwack into that glove.
At first Uncle Johnny brought his glove and ball and two bats with him each time he came. It wasn’t long before he said, “Here. These are yours now.” He wasn’t just my first sports playmate, he was my best friend. He was the best man at my wedding.
There is really no mystery to my love of baseball. Uncle Johnny taught me to love it, just by playing it with me. We love whatever is shared with the people who love us.
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” Yogi Berra
“All we ask [in old age] is to be allowed to remain the authors of our own story.” Atul Gawande, Being Mortal, p. 140.
A fuller exposition of how baseball encouraged me through cancer is on pp 32-22 of NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them is published by AndrewsMcmeel. It is available in paperback, ebook, audio, Czech, and Japanese.
You can find my poem about Robert Frost pitching to Babe Ruth in an epic game at many places on the internet. Just do a search for “Frosty and the Babe.” It was featured at the conference at Hofstra University celebrating the 100th birthday of Babe Ruth.