Monday, February 4, 2013

Diamonds in the Rough



            It is a chilly February day in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The wind races down the flatirons and into Boulder, Colorado, making this 35 degree Tuesday afternoon feel like a day stolen from the behemoth mountains that frame the backdrop of this college town. I am standing on the field of Nelvin Platte Middle School, some 5 miles off campus from the University of Colorado at Boulder; closer to the rural isolation of Louisville, than the insomnia that naturally accompanies the “number one” party school in the nation (according to Playboy magazine). This is far from the glory of division one athletics; no multi-million dollar budgets; no athletic scholarships; no ESPN or hint of media coverage in sight. In fact, it is unlikely that anyone besides the twenty-or-so “winter warriors”, lacing up their cleats, trading their standard summer headwear for an alternative better suited to combat the elements, even knows of their presence here. Just another day in the life of a CU club baseball player, and these men wouldn’t trade it for the world. I should know; these are my teammates after all. We hail from the suburbs of Denver, to the subways of New York; From the palm trees of Florida, to the Golden Gate Bridge of the Bay Area; From rich to poor, and white to, well, whiter. But we are the rare breed; people who more resemble our pupils in class everyday, than those athletes we watch on Folsom Field in the fall, or inside the Coors Event Center on winter evenings. None of us will play professional baseball of any significance, but that is accepted among the group.
But this is not a story of treachery and hassle; it is a love story. We come out every day, freezing and bitter (bitching the whole time), for the corny cliché of “the love of the game”. This is a part of who we are; it is innate, much like the hunting ability of a feline, or the climbing ability of a primate- a trait that must be honed, but is no doubt rooted in heredity.  I cannot remember when I fell in love with the game of baseball, but I am assuming it was the first coherent decision I ever made in my life. I guess you could say, that if home is where the heart is for most people, home-plate is where our hearts lie. I suspect our blood cells are not platelets but rather tiny baseballs flowing throughout the pinstripes that resemble veins. A screen-print t-shirt reads, “Slept through my alarm, flunked a test, broke up with my girlfriend, and played baseball; today was a GREAT day”. Boy was it. You may describe this love of baseball as grotesquely ill, but if I am sick, then the field I stand on today must be a hospital ward, because there are two dozen guys who are just as unhealthily obsessed as me.
Hundreds of miles away, under the comforts of year-round summertime that epitomizes Florida and Arizona, armies of workers are preparing spring training fields for the gods of our sport (or as you may know them, the major-leaguers). The lush green and golden clay that is the beauty of a baseball diamond waits eagerly for these deities to return; it has been eleven long months since they last stepped foot in this temple. The grass and dirt coincide to form a perfectly flat playing surface, undoubtedly suitable for Newton to test his first law of motion, save for the perfectly situated mound, pinnacled by the rectangular altar that is the pitching rubber; meticulously placed sixty feet six inches away from home plate as God’s eighth wonder of the world. We are far from this utopia.
We do not have armies of people helping us to maintain our field; we have but the small militia of ourselves. When we arrived here for the first day of our spring training, or rather, winter training, the field took the silhouette of a neglected child. Through many long hours of sweat and tears (okay, sweat and beers), we have transformed this field into, well, a neglected child (you know what they say, “a polished turd, is still a turd”). If you squint, you can make out the silhouette of a baseball diamond. The infield about as flat as the Rocky Mountains, pleasant as a bed of nails, makes even the truest ground balls turn unpredictable. We laugh and haughtily ridicule our teammates as “cup checks” are routinely performed involuntarily, but with an underlying caution, never knowing when the field will take her revenge on the family jewels. It may not be much, but we are finally playing baseball again and all seems right.
            Curses fill the afternoon air; in delight and despair; in success and failure; and even a few here and there for seemingly no reason. We ramble like sailors, and put each other down with vicious insults. We take shots at people’s girlfriends, or lack thereof; at the way they look; at where they’re from; and most of all, at each other’s playing ability. But this is the language we speak, our baseball jargon, if you will. We are gladiators on the field, and we share a constant power struggle to separate ourselves from the group as an alpha male. Come game time, these insults will turn to the other dugout and the umpires. We will unite under one flag into battle. But for now, teammates speak like enemies, competing for a spot in the front lines of battle. This is the price of earning respect. These are brothers in arms, and each one is prepared to go to war for each other. Disfunctionality is harmony for we underdogs, and our love of this game unites us, transcending any characterization of friendship. These are my teammates.

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