growing up, going to my older brother’s baseball games was a highlight of the week. Jake (yes! i have a husband Jake and a brother Jake!) had always played basically every sport that a well rounded childhood requires for as long as I can remember, but baseball was always my favorite. there’s a reason they call it America’s favorite pastime. it’s slow and earthy and when the smell of fresh cut grass mixes with root beer it feels wholly American. tradition at it’s finest. baseball was always a family affair for us. my dad was Jake’s coach in the early years and a talented sideline umpire in the later ones. my mom would chat with the other bleacher moms as their shoulders freckled and bronzed in the hot sun, and my sister and I saw the fields as an endless playground.
fly balls meant a race against everyone’s little brother for a ticket to the concessions stand and a decision between a RingPop to turn your tongue blue or five Red Vines in a sandwich bag. empty bleachers for miles meant practicing our best gymnastic tricks or sharing coloring book pages, fighting over who got to color in the book and who had to use the bumpy bleacher bench as a table. sunflower seed spitting, cartwheel roundoff contests and chanting “swiiiiiing batta batta”, “we want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher!” and “good eye! good eye!” through mouthfuls of Big League Chew as if we were paying enough attention to comment.
there was no rushing baseball. every inning lasted an eternity whether you wanted it to or not but by the end of the game, no matter how many of us knew the score, we left a family. Kate and I would sneak swigs of Jake’s half empty gatorade, squished together in the back of the suburban that always smelled of warm leather, and more than half of us would always be asleep by the time we pulled into the driveway.
i’m fairly certain my parents didn’t sit up at night wondering how to give us kids all-American childhood memories, but have them we do. and even if they did, I’m sure the ones they planned came with a lot more intention and financial backing than tournament season in the farmlands. but those are the kinds i hold dear. the ones where we were together, rooting, teasing and snacking, profoundly family.
I find the same thing keeps happening to me. while I desperately attempt to recreate early 90’s memories in a millennial era, they simply turn up anyway. turns out, if you put siblings and cousins together at a ball park, childhood happens and tired, dusty kids will always fall asleep before you hit the freeway.
there are nights I lay awake worried about the world we’re raising our babies in. a world where friends are in danger while dancing and bathrooms are suddenly, and increasingly, dangerous ground. I worry that our children will be robbed of the kind of childhood we experienced, full of love, generosity, safety and community. I can’t pretend I haven’t been tempted to run and hide, to search for a small piece of Middle America where we can escape the atrocities happening around us. but it only takes one trip to their daddy’s softball game to remind me that we can, and desperately need to, recreate that Middle America soul right where we are.
we can’t hide from what has happened to our fellow countrymen. we will stand with them in grief, support and hope. but if we’re brave enough to keep on loving, play catch with the kids from the other team, embrace our differences and pass around a tupperware of warm grapes, childhood memories will continue on as they always have. hope will always win over fear. my girls may have a different childhood than i did, there’s no changing that. but the traditions our country was founded on, like freedom and baseball, will live on. and I’m proud to be an American. our prayers are with you, Orlando – xo.