[A baseball essay, for Northern Journeys Magazine/Summer 2016]
Baseball makes up a substantial swath of my own personal history. I love most sports, but baseball is the one that has garnered the lion’s share of my attention over the course of my lifetime. Baseball was the first sport that I played. It was the sport that my father bequeathed to me and in turn, I passed it on to my own son.
As a talented high school player, I earned a scholarship to play in college. An injury derailed what I thought would be my career path—and I stepped away from the game I grew up with for the better part of my early 20s. It wasn’t until I returned to Maine after a strange sojourn away that I rediscovered the game and it has informed each and every spring (and summer) since then.
As a writer, baseball became the subject matter of my first book, When Towns Had Teams. As a late-blooming writer, I was searching for a narrative that was big enough to fill nearly 300 pages. Baseball beckoned me to make it my own story.
Like with many of my personal passions, history is central in my own understanding of the game. The pastime’s past for me begins with family.
My father’s brother, my Uncle Bob, was a talented left-handed pitcher for the Roberts’ 88’ers. The 88’ers, like many local town teams, were mainstays each summer in communities all across the Pine Tree State. Prior to our digital age, people still went out after dinner and watched local baseball played by men who might also double as their oil delivery man (like my uncle), or become their first American Legion coach and high school athletic director, like the late Stan Doughty was for me.
Ten years ago, when Major League teams trekked southward for spring training, my thoughts traveled back in time to when I was a pre-teen, idolizing the men who patrolled the diamond in my home town of Lisbon Falls. That became my theme in my initial research for a book.
One of my first extended conversations (which later led to a formal interview) that ended up being part of that first book was with my uncle. I recognized that the two of us shared a similar deep connection with baseball. I later found other men like him who never had a chance to tell their own story of baseball.
My earliest memories of baseball were of a game on an old black and white television, my father napping on a lazy Saturday afternoon (probably worn out from his swing shift at the mill and a likely moonlighting gig), and me curled up next to him, watching the players move back and forth across the screen. I recall asking questions and my father answering them. That’s how I learned about balls, strikes, and home runs.
As time marched on, my father became my Little League coach. And in the story of fathers and sons, I also served as my own son’s Little League coach, 20 years later. Conversations with my father, as well as my son still touch down on how the Red Sox are doing, or about that summer’s rookie sensation.
As you read this, baseball has transitioned out from its early-season flavor, to the warm summer night variety of what once was our National Pastime. This is my favorite time of any season, based on nearly 50 years of following the sport.
What could be better for those of us of a certain vintage, us hearty Northern New Englanders, than to have a baseball game on the radio while we’re sitting on our screened-in porch, doing little but taking in the ebb and flow of a baseball game?
Baseball is a pastoral game. That’s probably why I still find solace in the game’s rhythms and nuances. It’s not often flashy, and it doesn’t light up the digital screen like other sports do. In fact, every baseball game has long stretches where there’s not a lot happening, and then, something significant comes out of left field and impacts the outcome.
That would make baseball much like life.
Jim Baumer is a New England-based writer and small press publisher. He is the author of four books about baseball, Moxie, and life growing up in a small Maine town.