Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Keeping Score

            My daughter and I sat in a lifeguard chair perched beyond the left-field fence at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, N.J. These unique seats offered us a bird’s-eye view of a minor-league baseball game on a sunny Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. And for my 10-year-old and me, it was the perfect setting for what we were about to do.
After all, it wasn’t just a baseball game we were ready to watch. On this day, we had decided to try keeping score together. This antiquated skill, which I had learned as a kid, was going to find its way into the brain of my daughter Chelsea. She said she was ready and wanted to learn. So we gave it a try.
Why bother with keeping score, you might ask? Even for a minor-league game like this, the play-by-play was available online, in real time, along with a running box score and up-to-date statistics for each player. Why bother sitting there with a pencil, circling “2B” if the hitter smacked a double, or writing in “6-3” if he grounded out to the shortstop? It’s a good question, and one my 13-year-old daughter was more than ready to ask as she chose not to participate in our exercise.
But on this day, Chelsea sensed that there was something about tallying your own numbers that seemed worth the effort. There was no algorithm or app involved in the data we were compiling. It was just us, with our trusty pencil and scorebook, keeping track of the game before us. And instead of blindly relying on others to tell us what we needed to know, we could glance at our scorecard and see who was hitting well that day, and who was struggling. Chelsea was particularly intrigued by the backwards “K” that indicates a batter struck out looking, and she was excited to shade in the full baseball diamond to indicate that a batter scored a run.
Of course, this day of keeping score was always about more than just numbers. The game itself was fun, but nothing extraordinary happened on the field. For my daughter and me, the most interesting part of that game took place in that lifeguard chair, when we sat down together and tried something new. Chelsea said it was fun, and I believe her. What I think she really meant, though, was it was fun to spend time with her dad.
No number-crunching or scorecards are needed to understand the importance of that.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Power of Our Passions

            When people ask me if my girls like baseball as much as I do, I have to be honest – they don’t. But in a lot of ways, that’s not really the point.
            When my brother and I spent our summer days immersed in all things baseball as kids, it wasn’t just the love of a game that we were developing. We were finding a passion, a hobby that we could hold onto for the rest of our lives. That passion would assist us in so many ways during our own personal growth, as passions often do.
When we made friends in school, baseball served as a conversation-starter. When our mother told us to read books over the summer, we often chose baseball biographies. As we discovered our mutual passion for writing, we practiced that skill by scribbling about baseball. And when we were in need of a thought to help divert our minds from a fear, stressor or family crisis, our thoughts bent toward the diamond.
As an adult, I learned that when you have a passion for something, people are energized by your expression of that hobby. My wife has always said that she loves to go to baseball games with me, because she can see the glimmer in my eyes. When I’m talking about baseball, friends and colleagues who know little about the sport will listen intently to my stories. When I’m finished, they often tell me I should write a book about baseball. Sometimes I tell them, yes, I’m doing that. Other times, I just smile and nod and thank them.
My daughters haven’t yet read the full manuscript I’ve written about coming of age with baseball at my side. But they’ve seen the passion, and it rubs off on them a bit. On Father’s Day, when we went to a minor-league game in Lakewood, N.J., my 10-year-old let me teach her how to keep score, and we sat in a big lifeguard chair beyond the left-field fence and tallied the hits and walks and strikeouts in our scorebook. When my wife and I gave our 13-year-old a Brett Gardner T-shirt this spring, she researched the Yankees left fielder on her phone and decided that he was a cutie. When I told her that Gardner had been named to the All-Star team this month, she said she knew that already. She’s keeping tabs on the guy.
So whether or not we pass along the affection we have for a specific hobby, the people around us still get something out of the energy we exude over it. Our 10-year-old may not know much about the Yankees, but Chelsea loves to talk about Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, and she’s finding a newfound interest in tennis. Our 13-year-old might not know who roams the New York outfield with Brett Gardner, but Katie teaches me plenty about pop music, fashion, photography and, yes, social media. When I’m teaching high school English and I describe the Shakespearean complexity of Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez, my students might not care a lot about that particular comparison, but it often helps them to make their own text-to-life connections. Mr. Hynes, how about Tupac Shakur? Or Lance Armstrong? Or Bill Clinton? All good, guys. All good.
So when I think about the role baseball plays in my life, I see it as twofold: There are the personal thoughts and ideas I have while thinking about the game, which have clearly meant a lot to me; and then there are the little sparks of inspiration that others might gain from my enthusiastic discussions of the sport. The people around me will do what they wish with those sparks, but it’s exciting to know that my own spirited love for something has left even the smallest mark on readers, colleagues, friends, students and family – and, yes, even on two particular daughters.