If you happened to be driving on Sand Point Way in the University District on Sunday evening between the hours of, say, 7:00 and 9:00 PM, you may have seen a group of people playing baseball on the open fields directly across the street from Burgermaster and Safeway. There were three of us: a batter, a pitcher, and one outfielder running for his life, attempting to shag more balls than a Heidi Fleiss wannabe.
Of our group, only one person had played baseball in the past five years. That would be Danny (who now goes by Dan, but whatever), a former member of the USC club baseball team, one of few Trojans not currently affected by athletic scandal. For the rest of us — myself and Ben, two ex-intramural softball players who collaborated on multiple championships during our time at the University of Washington — baseball was a distant memory, a game we played in high school some seven years ago.
In fact, the three of us were once teammates on the Bellevue High School varsity baseball team, each members of the Class of 2003, and each friends since before most of our female classmates had boobs. We go back a long way, to say the least.
There was a time when we devoted our springs and summers to AstroTurf and sunflower seeds. When we spent our afternoons jogging foul poles and our evenings taking hacks in the cage. When our immediate goals in life were to get laid, get rich, and get through practice without having to run more.
But that was then, and this was now.
Now we had jobs and lives and futures that had become our collective present. One of us (Ben) was engaged. One of us (Danny) was moving across the country to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. And one of us (me) had just started a new career, still adjusting from the transitional purgatory we often find ourselves in post-college.
Despite how much our lives had changed, baseball still brought us together. And so we played.
Underneath a waning sun on a cloudless evening, three grown-ups played a kid’s game as we rekindled our glory days. We limbered up our egos while cracking line drives, racing down fly balls, and feeding each other meatball off-speed pitches. We discussed nothing in particular. We talked about the past. We talked about our team. We talked about our inimitable former head coach. We relived moments. We drifted.
We live in a world where playing often gets neglected after our teenage years. Where the most ambitious of us will spend the afternoon on a golf course, or join a bowling league. Where even our most exciting diversions are scripted with uniforms and a league-mandated rule book.
We forget about the days of wiffle ball and the playground, sandlots and schoolyards. We don’t recall running around in our jeans and Converses, sprinting for the heck of it, laughing because we enjoyed it, and lying in the grass when we had finally exhausted ourselves.
We separate our lives into two distinct phases: childhood and adulthood. In one phase, we enjoy life. In the other, we tolerate it. In one phase, we play. In the other, we work. Rarely do we find these phases in our lives coinciding.
But then there are moments like Sunday night. When work didn’t matter. When adulthood was merely a label. When our priorities reorganized themselves.
We don’t play enough in this world. Our fun is limited, petty, anticipated, mundane.
When we do play, however, we remember what our glory days were all about. Our glory days weren’t about winning ballgames or championships or awards or anything else. Our glory days were summer evenings like this one, when the grass was cool and the sun sank behind the hills as we tore through open space, running for nothing, smiling over nothing, and enjoying everything.
I encourage you to play more. To bring back the glory of your youth. To play for nothing and for no one. To play for the fun of it, the hell of it. Play more. Then see how you feel when you’re all done. My back is sore, my hand is blistered and bleeding.
And yet, for some strange reason, I’ve never felt better.