“Two tickets: $28. Two hot dogs, two popcorns and two sodas: $18. One autographed baseball: $45. Real conversation with your son: Priceless.”
Even two decades later, Mastercard’s nostalgic commercial reappears this time each year to coincide with the advent of the baseball season. As a son, and now as a father, the message hits home (bad pun intended). For it was at the ballpark, ironically surrounded by thousands of strangers, where I had my most intimate conversations with my father. At least for those nine innings, the rest of the world, along with its demands, receded behind the bright lights of the stadium, leaving my dad and me to discuss the nuances of the game … and life.
The very rhythm of the game of baseball uniquely lends itself to such conversation. While many in today’s “sound-bite” culture accuse the pastime of being too slow-paced or boring, it is precisely the pregnant pauses between each pitch, the opportunity to carefully parse each player’s strategy in that particular moment, that make the game so fascinating to me.
My father and I were certainly not alone in the right field bleachers of Memorial Stadium. Even during some lean years, I grew to discover and appreciate the community of Orioles fans who converged on old 33rd Street in Baltimore. They began as a disparate group, coming from all walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds and creeds. The only thing this motley crew held in common was the color orange on their ball caps. And, for those three hours during the summer, that was all that mattered. As a child, I remember being in awe of the power baseball has to galvanize, unite and bring together the most diverse groups of people. There in those bleachers, we became a community, bound by a common passion, as well as by the orange and black ornithologically correct bird on our hats.
We were a community of hope, even on the most daunting nights, with the score lopsided in favor of the visiting team. One of the rare beauties of baseball is that it lacks a game clock. You will find no timer or shot clock at your local ballpark or baseball diamond. A team far ahead cannot simply run out the clock, nor is the trailing club ever so far behind that there is not ample time to catch up. Baseball and my father taught me a poignant lesson: that every one of your team’s 27 outs was equally valuable, and, until that final one was recorded, there was reason for hope. And on many dramatic nights, the Orioles, through their seemingly magical, late-inning comebacks reinforced the importance of never giving up.
On the eve of the new baseball season, similar sentiments can be felt throughout every Major League city and fan base. “Hope springs eternal” is the mantra from Boston to Chicago, from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and from Washington to even Baltimore. As spring dawns, and the “Boys of Summer” return to the field, this is the time for even the longest suffering fans to dream. For a brief moment, the slate is clean. The failures of years past make way for a renewed optimism, and, for at least one night, all teams believe that anything is possible.
One need not be a baseball fan to appreciate the game’s enduring lessons. Collington’s bucolic 126-acre campus is certainly no field of dreams, but it is a sacred place where hope springs eternal, where diverse people from all over the world come together to form a unique and closely knit community, and where daily I am reminded the sum of our most memorable work is saved for life’s “late innings.” “Priceless,” indeed!