Play Ball

There is, perhaps, no better place to sample a juicy slice of small-town summer than the baseball and softball fields found in those small towns

You get a snapshot of the people in the community: dirty, sweaty kids at play, learning a game and lessons that will extend beyond the game; engaged and excited parents supporting those kids on their journey of growth; selfless volunteers running the show, ensuring everyone of the opportunity and ensuring that everyone has fun.

There’s also the smells — the green scent of freshly trimmed grass, the intoxicating bouquet of Saddle Soap and worn leather, the faintly (and weirdly) tropical fragrance of sunscreen.

And what about the tastes? Where else can you enjoy the sweet fizzy carbonation of soft drinks, the buttery goodness of popcorn, a steaming hot dog served (if you want) with all the trimmings, corn chips slathered in nacho cheese and spicy jalapeños, a medley of candies ranging from Nerds to giant Snickers bars, and maybe even (gasp) ice-cream sandwiches.

That’s a heaping, overflowing bowlful of Americana, the richness of which simply cannot be found at any other type of event in the nation. Of course, the range of pleasures offered often depends on the means of the community. The fields themselves span a spectrum of amenities and design. They run from the more extravagant trappings of the larger towns, some rivaling the facilities of a small college complete with actual dug out dugouts, to humble examples that appear to be a just a relatively flat section of pasture fenced off from the cows.

Not every field has the greenest of grass and finest of dirt. Not every concession stand is so well-stocked. Sometimes shade is hard to find on a bright afternoon, and the last thing you want to do is park your rear in those hot and unforgiving stands for another game. But, somewhat surprisingly, even in those less than ideal conditions, the experience still offers the same simple joys that remind you of your own childhood.

As a kid that never cared for baseball (though, ironically, you’ll find out in this issue that I’m related to a World Series winner), the pull to the fields on a sultry afternoon was still too strong to resist. There was something to be found there, something bigger than the game. I think it’s because despite what the calendar said, we all knew that summer truly started when the umpire pulled their mask down and demanded that we all play ball.