Tag Archives: baseball

Book Excerpt: Reflections on Baseball’s Deep Meaning

This is Philip Wyeth. I had the opportunity to attend two World Series games this past month, one in Boston and one in Los Angeles. So I thought what I would do here was share some of the footage I took at both games, as well as read an excerpt from my new novel, “Chasing the Best Days.”

In this chapter my main character Greg has invited his older son Peter to attend an Angels baseball game, and then later he thinks to himself about what the game of baseball meant to him. …

Greg remembered how on summer weekends when he had custody of the boys, Peter would take the rubber-banded stack of baseball cards he’d brought over and arrange them on the floor in front of the TV. All the Angels players plus the other superstars from around the league he liked.

The boy would flip a card over and recite an Angel batter’s stats, then try to predict which base he would most likely end up on if he got a hit. Even back then, the kid was thinking on a higher level. No wonder he’s working in tech.

Greg had collected baseball cards in his day too. Mid-to-late seventies. Lots of great ball players with real personality back then. Mike Schmidt. George Brett. Nolan Ryan. And the guys with classic nicknames too. Goose. Yaz. Catfish.

It was a nice little collection. Stored in a couple of shoe boxes he kept under the bed. Nothing fancy like the binders or hard plastic cases that had come into favor in later years. Baseball cards weren’t an investment back then—you engaged with them. Lived and breathed with them. So what if you creased a corner holding onto Dale Murphy’s card while hoping he got a home run?

And that’s why Greg liked how Peter made use of his own cards. Wore them out, got them dirty, left them on the floor in a big square pattern—before being trampled by Nick in one of his wild moments—as if there was something about life that Peter would absorb from the corny smiles and action shots on the glossy front side.

But it wasn’t just the baseball cards themselves, Greg was now coming to see. It was all aspects of the game that made it so captivating. The deliberate pacing. The nuanced rules and your own understanding of them. You could get real insight into another man based on how he saw the game, as if it were a reflection of his own intelligence and worldview.

Baseball was a game that taught boys about the boundaries of life—how going sideways earned you nothing, but soaring forward over the wall was what brought you the glory. There was teamwork, strategy, and those moments when it was you alone versus the pitcher—each of you grappling with your thoughts during the showdown.

And then one day sometime during adolescence, your focus shifted away from this game that was challenging but always made so much sense, and instead you began chasing girls. An endless riddle that defied logic because the rules changed at random. Where wins seemed like flukes you had stumbled into rather than achieved, and which never carried over to the next play.

Even if you kept watching baseball during all these years caught up in the business of life—school, hobbies, family, work—you never watched the game with the same simple intimacy as when you were an innocent boy. But maybe it waited for you to come around again, leaving a door open to reconnect when you were older, calmer, done with distractions, and had… if not satisfied your desires, at least gone beyond them, because you were finally able to set greed and lust aside.

Then your mind could really take in this chess match out on the diamond. Even now in middle age, Greg saw how it could be an important bookend on a man’s life. Returning to a place well worn by your own feet decades ago, when they were much smaller and without the callouses of so many miles. Embracing the calm flow of America’s pastime after a life spent in the trenches.

You had participated. You dove in and battled the sharks. You made the charge over the top! It was of no importance that you didn’t get rich or famous—or even maintain an intact home, apparently. What mattered was that you played and left it all out on the field, including your intestines as it sometimes felt like after the worst defeats.

Maybe baseball and golf, sports so dependent on rules and played as a process rather than on the clock, maybe these were the great soothing elixirs for an aging man’s mind. An effervescent dreamland, a bulwark against chaos, a wide open space in nature where generations of men could gather in safety.

To teach fundamental skills. Tell stories of when I played the game. To marvel at the youngsters bounding around the field—their joys so pure and simple, their tears heartfelt but not weighed down by any of the real grief that would come later.

Greg thanked God that he had been there for Peter and Nick’s practices and games. As cruel as the whole arc of those years had been, at least he wasn’t denied being allowed to teach the boys how to throw a proper curveball. He had been there when each of them got their first hole-in-one too. …

It didn’t matter when your plans turned to nothing. Or that you had lived in denial chasing the dream for far too long. Because what you got instead—that wisdom beyond words—didn’t come with championships, it couldn’t be purchased, and no man could pretend his way into possessing it.

You had to be wounded again and again to receive it. Get back up and charge onward—over here, and now there—and die once more. The only way out was indeed through—as your blood and tears seeped down into the soil of life, your bright eyes filling with despair in the shell-shock of a thousand different defeats.

Which was maybe why old men saw ball fields as holy ground. The place where memories of their own distant wins and losses merged with those of the generations that came after. To know that thousands of boys also tried to steal the very same second base that you had—this was profoundly satisfying. …

Thanks for listening. You can hear all of my monologues at philipwyeth.com, and you can purchase the new book “Chasing the Best Days” exclusive to Amazon. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can read the e-book for free.

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Video was originally uploaded on November 5, 2018.