Some nights, I really miss playing baseball. Like a few months ago when I sat along the third-base line, leaning on the chain-metal fence and talking with some youth league coaches and parents about the pending softball game. Our girls were hitting balls into a net and fielding grounders on the dirt field. A soft breeze blew over the freshly mown field in east central Illinois, whose sweet smell reminded me of days spent roaming across such fields back in New Jersey. I loved nights like this, as much for the beauty of the moment as for the competition. I miss the joy of playing.
Apparently I'm not alone. More than 30 accomplished writers explore their own obsessions with baseball in Scoring from Second:Writers on Baseball, a new book edited by Phil Deaver. Apparently these other men and women also miss the exultation of hitting a baseball in the bat's sweet spot, of snaring a line drive in a worn leather glove, of listening to games on the radio, and of shagging fly balls until the sun goes down. They learned many lessons about life along the way. Baseball is a generational game, passed along from father to son or mother to daughter (or some other parent-sibling equation). If this legacy seemingly skips a generation, more than likely a patient grandfather, perhaps wearing tan slacks and loafers, and cracking jokes, will step in to remind a young girl to step and throw, as one writer learned.
According to the writers in this book, baseball is about history, dreams, love, hope, and anticipation. But it is also about death, nightmares, suicidal despair, and dread. Either way, baseball taught these writers much.
Cris Mazza, for example, learned never to give up as a kid. As a preteen, she loved Clay Kirby, a pitcher who toiled away for an expansion San Diego Padres team that was unworthy to have him. Even though Kirby was among the league's best pitchers, he usually did not have a great record thanks to a team filled with castoffs, hangers-on, and very little talent during those first several seasons. But that did not matter to an 11-year-old girl who knew more about the infield fly rule than about making out and whose anxiety over the Padres' impotence at the plate surged stronger than any hormones. Through the years, she faced many hardships that included a divorce and the heartbreaking death of a family pet. Somehow Mazza also toiled on, rooting for a Padres team that lost many more games than it won for more than a decade. Mazza did not despair when the Padres lost in the 1984 World [End Page 183] Series, although she lost some faith when the team subsequently fell apart the following years.
Still, those early years of rooting for a perennial loser taught her some lessons in resiliency: "After my listless divorce I never vowed to never marry again. After holding my first dog's face close to mine while a vet injected her with a fatal dose of barbiturates, I did not vow to never form another attachment that would only lead to this desolate grief over its loss. But on my bed in the fall of 1998, I vowed I could not afford to love another team again. I knew I lied."
Boys do not own baseball, something that was clear to a young woman in 1969 and something that is clear to the thousands of girls who now play softball and baseball. Once, girls like Susan Perabo were not allowed to play, told that baseball was a brotherhood—a men's game. Perabo helped change that belief by playing for a men's college baseball team.
Title IX changed the landscape for girls everywhere. But a decade after its passage, girls still had few athletic opportunities, something Perabo faced while growing up in the early 1980s near St. Louis. Baseball, not softball, drew in Perabo, a girl whose grandfather grew up with Rogers Hornsby and...