Reflections on Baseball
By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.
June 11, 2023
NOTE - This article appeared in "Here's the Pitch" the daily newsletter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA).
When I think back to the constants in my life, there are only a few: things that have been with me almost, it seems, from the start. There is family. There is God. And there is baseball. (There are, of course, other things, but for the sake of this essay, those are the big three.)
When I first became a baseball fan, the players such as Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, and Sparky Lyle were real-life superheroes to me. They were bigger than life and as talented and as real to me as Superman and Batman and Robin Hood. I thought they could do anything. I thought they'd live and play forever.
Baseball was a constant in my life. If I wasn't watching the Yankees on TV, I was playing baseball, Wiffle Ball, Strat-o-Matic Baseball, looking at and sorting my baseball cards, or reading about the game. I was baseball-obsessed.
So much of my life was centered on baseball.
I learned the difference between left and right by remembering that Roy White played in left field.
In fact, a lot of my learning came from baseball.
My mom didn't understand how I couldn't remember my Spanish, but that I knew what Lou Piniella's batting average was and that Graig Nettles led the American League with 32 homers in 1976.
I didn't like doing my math homework, but I would figure out the batting averages of baseball players for hours on end. I was also probably the first kid in my grade level to know how to calculate a pitcher's Earned Run Average. I may not have aced all my spelling tests, but I absolutely knew how to spell "Yastrzemski."
I eventually grew up and became a history teacher, but long before I ever knew the Preamble of the Constitution or the Gettysburg Address by heart, I could recite, in character, the entire Who's on First routine. Before I could name every United States President in order, I knew the starting lineup for the 1927 Yankees. Before I knew the dates of any specific historical events, I knew that Don Larsen pitched a perfect game on October 8, 1956.
There haven't been many days in my life when I haven't thought about baseball.
I'm now in my mid-50s. I still play the game. I pitch on two different teams against players who are decades younger than me. I don't throw all that hard and my curveball is best when there is a strong wind blowing from left to right, but I'm still winning games pitching inning after inning.
I love toeing the rubber and looking at my catcher 60 feet and 6 inches away and going into the wind-up. Like Satchel Paige, I want to pitch forever. (I am especially fortunate: my 24-year-old son plays on the team with me. There is a unique and special joy to be able to play baseball, real baseball, with my son.)
I always wanted to know everything about baseball because my dad did (and still does). I was always amazed at his knowledge of the game and his love of the sport. My dad is 84 years old. We still have catches in the backyard. Is there anything better than that?
The Lord brought light to the world and saw that it was good.
I feel similarly about baseball. I see baseball, and I know it is also good.
I remember where I was the moment I heard that Thurman Munson died. I was crushed. I also remember the sadness that came when I learned that the Yankees had traded Graig Nettles to the San Diego Padres. So many of my life's memories are tied to baseball.
I still cry when I watch Field of Dreams and I also cry when Roy Hobbs' long fly ball hits the light tower in The Natural. (Listen closely, you can hear the theme song playing right now...)
I went to the Field of Dreams in Iowa with my dad and my mom just so we could have a catch. That was more than seven years ago, but the photo sits on my bookshelf and I'm reminded of that wonderful time each and every day.
When the new Yankee Stadium opened for the first time, I was there with one of my sons. It was his birthday. What could have been better?
When each of my sons were growing up, I coached their recreation teams. I hold those memories close to my heart.
The day before my youngest son went to college, we sat in the dugout of a nearby baseball field and opened packs of baseball cards together. That was his idea. I cried that day too.
Baseball has brought generations of my family together. We relish in the games, the sport, the memories, and the moments.
We still find magic in the little things that are so much a part of the sport.
When life slows down enough and we allow ourselves to get immersed in the game, that same joy from my childhood sometimes comes right back. Last week when Aaron Judge made an amazing catch crashing into (and breaking) the right field wall in Dodger Stadium, that special feeling I felt as a kid, that same feeling that I was watching a superhero, engulfed me, if only for a moment.
Of course, as a ballplayer, I still think that I have a chance to make it to the major leagues. Aaron Judge might be a superhero at one moment, but in other moments, I imagine standing on the mound, facing him, and striking him out. Why not? Isn't that also part of the magic of the game?
The sounds of baseball constantly surround me. It's a part of my life. It always will be. It's more than a game.
Jim Bouton said it best, "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
Dr. Paul Semendinger is a retired principal. He still teaches at the collegiate level. If you haven't read his novel Scattering the Ashes, you should.