When the late A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote that baseball was “designed to break your heart,” he was referring to the weather and the seasons.
He meant the game was born again in spring -- like the flowers and trees -- and blossomed in summer, and faded away in fall, just as things grew cold and dark.
He meant major-league baseball.
“When the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops,” Giamatti wrote.
High school baseball in our neck of the woods always has worked the opposite way. It wasn’t designed to break your heart. It was designed to freeze your toes and numb your fingers, especially in the early days of spring in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
But it also was designed to gradually loosen those muscles that have been squeezed tight against the chill since November, to carry you into longer days and higher temperatures, to signal the celebratory end of the school year and the coming of summer.
High school baseball around here always turned the former baseball commissioner and Yale president/English Renaissance literature professor’s famous axiom on its head: It was designed to warm your heart and the rest of you as well.
Maybe that’s why we all miss it – and softball, lacrosse, tennis, and track and field as well -- so much.
When you spend years as a sportswriter, you tend to hear the same question, over and again: “What’s your favorite sport to cover?”
I have my answer down pat: “I like them all. The sport doesn’t matter. You are writing about people.”
I tell sports journalism students at Rowan University that one of the most memorable stories of my career was about an athlete from Voorhees who fell off her horse, got up, and won a silver medal in women’s equestrian at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Never in a million years would I have imagined that as one of my favorite sports to cover.
But there always was a wise-guy kicker to the lesson plan: I had a least-favorite sport to cover.
And that was high school baseball in early April: when neither team’s pitcher can find the strike zone, and the umpire is being a stickler, and there is no clock to count down the time until I’m back in my truck with the heat on full blast.
I always used to joke that I was colder at baseball games in April than at football games in December, maybe from the shock of switching from those steamy gymnasiums in March to the Siberian steppe of those blustery open fields, with no barrier to the wind.
Now I wish I was out there again.
Now I wish I was jumping around again to stay warm between innings.
Now I wish I was trying, once again without success, to use mental telepathy to persuade the plate umpire to widen the zone – oh, maybe to the dimensions of a king-size bed sheet – and call more strikes.
High school baseball people know in their bones those cold and cloudy days early in the season only serve to increase everybody’s appreciation of those warm and sunny days late in the season, when you can set up your beach chair behind the backstop and let the games proceed at their leisurely pace.
Maybe we’ll have high school baseball and those other spring sports again in May.
It won’t be quite as cold and windy – although it’s a good guess there still will be pitchers who can’t find the plate and umpires who won’t cut them any slack – and surely not as jarring to the system after months in overcrowded gyms.