A late summer’s afternoon in the park

Standing atop a small little dirt incline that’s enough to pass for a hill around here, I saw it all quite clearly. The scene that I had spent ten minutes surveying, pondering, and trying to get a few pictures of finally came into focus for me. And it inspired me to write, because there isn’t much else that I can do about it.

Off to the left, a youth football team ran through a tackling drill. The coach blew the whistle over and over, directing the action, and telling his players he wanted to see some harder hitting. In the foreground, a number of teenagers played a pickup basketball game, which was limited to half-court because one of the rims had been pulled down and never replaced. But no matter, they were running around and having a good time. And in the background sat an empty and neglected baseball field.

The diamond itself would have needed a significant amount of work to get it into a playable condition. Rather than tilling the soil, and evening out the gaps where puddles had formed and then dried away, the most attention that anyone had given this field was some artwork that had been sketched out with a stick, and some tire marks indicating that it had been used as a dirt track by somebody. Nobody was going to tend to this infield, because nobody would use it if they did. No kids were playing catch, or shagging fly balls, or anything else to suggest an interest in baseball, the game that I would have been playing in a park during my youth.

Major league baseball still survives and, for the fortunate few who make it onto a big league field, it’s an escape from a life of ordinariness. But American kids today don’t grow up wanting to be the next Tom Seaver, or George Brett, or Reggie Jackson. Some kids in the Dominican Republic, Asia, or other places where the big league teams are now actively mining for talent have their own role models, but they aren’t the ones that I had when I was young.

American kids want to be more like Derrick Rose than they want to be like Mike Trout. He and Bryce Harper have proven that baseball can still resonate with younger kids in the internet age that we now live in. But when baseball’s pennant races are heating up, it makes it all the more obvious that baseball has been left behind, in the imaginations of most American kids. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s athletes, and they aren’t going to be on the diamond in any significant numbers.

Change is inevitable, and I write about it all the time in this space. Sometimes change happens and I’m happy about it, and other times I wish things could just stay as they are. But change doesn’t need my approval in order to move ahead. In fact, it often happens despite my nostalgic pining for the days of yore. I couldn’t stop it, even if I wanted to, and there’s a certain helplessness in that.

But on the other hand, I can still acknowledge the change, while not fully embracing it. I can point out what came before, and try to capture just a little piece of it for anyone who might someday wonder about it. And I can also take comfort in the fact that a stream never stays put in its banks. It needs to flow from place to place, and this flow provides the sights and the sounds and the action that makes life more interesting than it otherwise might be.

Change is the only constant, after all, and if it takes an afternoon in the park to make this clear, then it was a walk worth taking, and a post worth writing, too.

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