Every day I walk around the campus of my hometown’s only public high school in Trumbull, Connecticut, which is conveniently named Trumbull High School. Now, it needs to be understood that this school’s campus is relatively big and the athletic fields that lay out from the school building itself number between nine and eleven depending how they are configured.
There is one enclosed soccer/lacrosse field and five other practice fields that are used intermittingly for various high school or youth league soccer, lacrosse or field hockey matches. There are two enclosed baseball fields, one used for interscholastic boy’s games as well as other various youth leagues such as Babe Ruth or American Legion ball and the other enclosed field is used exclusively for softball. Then there are two other diamonds that are configured within the various designs of the other practice fields with pitcher’s mounds and clay infields. Additionally, there is the school’s enclosed football stadium with its own artificial turf (ugh!) and this doesn’t even take into consideration the abutting junior high school (or do we call it a middle school now?) that has its own field that I have seen painted with yard line markers so the school’s very good and nationally renowned marching band and color guard can go through its practices on a replica 100 yard football field as it prepares for another football season as well as the many regional and national matching band/color guard competitions it attends and the various occasions where it performs (e.g., two presidential inaugurations).
A round trip around the entire perimeter is a tad less than 2 miles. So, if I walk around all the athletic fields and the school itself (a building that can house a student body of about 2000 plus), and, then turn around and depending how I go back from whence I came, I can usually walk anywhere from about 3.2 to 3.7 miles. It helps keep the old weight and my sugar down (now I just have to learn to eat a little less and I might actually lose some of the flab). Now all of this walking can get pretty boring but it happens that when I am walking around the outer fields of the campus it can tend to be very distracting from the tedium of the walk due to the fact that at any given time there can be up to 200 kids of varying ages out there practicing or playing some form of team sports, as well as, various people walking, riding bikes, playing with their pets or using the sports fields or six tennis courts when there are no scheduled matches by the high school or any other youth league activity. And, no matter what the season (well, maybe, in the dead of winter when there is a foot or more of snow on the ground is an exception but barely) there are always a passel of kids out there practicing or playing sports, from soccer to field hockey to football to lacrosse to baseball.
Now as I walk around this mélange of athletic fields I can usually watch these kids being put through their paces, the daily grind of repetitive drills, the same plays over and over and over and over again. Sometimes I think back to when I played football for my old high school, which was St. Josephs, which is another high school, as well as the only parochial high school, in Trumbull. Most memories were good but there were times I felt like saying “screw this” because at the end of practice we always did wind sprints up a steep hill and I just did not want to do one more wind sprint up that twenty to thirty foot hill that seemed to be on a straight up impossible incline. But I never did say it and I did every last one of them damn wind sprints and I played in the games and got my letter. Probably just like these kids practicing at the THS fields.
But, being a baseball fan, the baseball practices particularly catch my attention and during my walks when these kids are out there on the diamonds I watch with rapt attention. I watch the coaches put these kids through the paces of training and learning and I try to understand what immense patience it must take for them to respectfully instill the discipline in these youths how to play the game competitively but, at the same time, with sportsmanship. I watch as they hit fly ball after fly ball and grounder after grounder at these kids and hope somehow they can get a bunch of players out of the raw talent on the field to compete in whatever league they play within. All the sports are interesting to watch but it is always the baseball that catches my eye and I am fascinated with how these kids, especially the American Legion teams that play their league games at the THS fields, just day in and day out go through the grind.
Then about a week ago, on a Saturday, I was walking and there were two games being played and being the baseball voyeur that I am I kind of slowed my pace a tad so I could watch a bit as I walked. The first field I went by had a man on second, with one out, as I would soon find out as the action unfurled. The pitcher slings a pitch and it is just a little too fat and the batter tees off with a liner that appears headed to left field. But the kid at third put on his best Brooks Robinson impression and makes his move, leaves his feet and snares the wicked liner. Somehow, he is on his feet and fires a strike to second where the second baseman was standing the entire time. Not off somewhere watching but right where he needed to be. He had obviously immediately run to the base just in case… and just in case had just happened. They forced the man who had broke immediately thinking “make it home on this clean single.” Bam! … just like that double play. Inning over.
I smiled to myself as I watched those jubilant kids run off the field slapping gloves and cheering and congratulating the two who had combined to end the inning. “Nice”, I said to myself.
And, I remembered all those days I watched them practicing, taking those grounders and fly balls. Hearing the coaches yell out a game situation … man on second, one out … and then swatting a hard bouncer or liner towards an infielder and watching what they did, how they reacted and handled the set up “game situation” and then then do it all over again until every possible scenario of that one situation had been played through.
I continued on around the perimeter of the fields on the access road and came upon the second game being played. I was just in time to see a batter send a pitch to semi-deep center field. A man on third was tagging. Centerfielder catches the ball. Man on third takes off, hell bent on scoring. Centerfielder throws a dart to the cutoff man, the pitcher, and then the pitcher turns and fires flawlessly towards the catcher at home. Runner slides; catcher crouches; steels himself for the ball and the runner to get there simultaneouly. Then a cloud of dirt explodes and the ump’s arm goes up and the call comes: “OUT!”. Inning over and as the adrenalized kids run off the field their manager is out of the dugout and yells, “That’s baseball!!!!”
Indeed, that is in fact baseball. With a big beaming smile I continue on my walk knowing I had just seen something wondrous and great and had been reminded what the game is really all about. A simple game played by kids. Kids coming together and playing to their fullest potential to succeed as a team. I was watching America and America’s game and loving it.
(Trumbull High School in Trumbull CT is more or less 48 miles as the crows flies from Yankee Stadium.)
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