Thursday, September 29, 2011

Big Two-Hearted Sandlot

After returning from war, Ernest Hemingway went to the Upper Peninsula to camp and fish for several days in an attempt to heal his physical and emotional scars. It was a special place for him that brought him back to simpler days and made him forget the tragedies that can befall you on this treacherous journey that we call life. I wish I could call up Hemingway's ghost for a good trip up to the Big Two-Hearted River so I could ask him just how he healed those emotional wounds, if he ever did, or how he got over the heartbreaks that are rampant in his books. But since that scenario didn't seem likely (maybe If I had some absinthe), I figured I would settle for a trip to my own special place. For me, that special place is a tiny sandlot baseball field, secretly nestled in the woods of Hines Park and in between bends of the Rouge River.

In my mid-teens my life revolved around that sandlot. The neighborhood guys and I played literally whenever we could -- we sometimes would even wake up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday just to get a game in if someone had obligations that would prevent us from playing later in the day. And we worked tirelessly to upkeep that field, doing everything from mowing it to erecting foul poles to pouring kitty litter in the batter's box when it was soggy from rain. Quite simply, we were in love with the place.

Today I took a walk to the old ballfield. I felt like it was something I needed to do. I felt that if I could just see it again, some of the emptiness that has existed in my soul for the past three months might dissipate. If I could just stand in that old batter's box, maybe I'd be able to feel young and alive again, instead of the desolation that has hung like a cloud over my head for too long now. I knew the sandlot wouldn't disappoint.

It was a beautiful autumn day. The trees in the woods are just changing colors and the seasonal change in the air was palpable. As I walked down memory lane -- the trails we walked hundreds and hundreds of times on the way to the field -- I thought about the people we used to be: young, bright-eyed, naive and innocent kids with the world in front of them. It sounds strange, but it was as if I could almost see the ghosts of us dragging our baseball gloves and bats down the trail to the field, our laughter echoing off the trees. And I thought about the person I've become since I left home and that sandlot. I thought about the people we've all become. I thought about how easy it is to get lost in the world when you leave home, when you're world becomes more than just a sandlot baseball field.

But when I arrived at the field, I didn't think about being lost. I just felt hope again.

Sure, the field is overgrown with tall grass and weeds nowadays; the pitcher's mound is barely even visible through it all. But underneath all the brush, the magic is still there. The magic of a boyhood summer day, baking in the sunlight while rounding the bases. The magic of when a game-winning home run in a friendly match could be the highlight of your whole week. The magic of a grill-cooked hot dog and a soda in between a summer day's doubleheader. The magic of a couple of best friends just having fun.

It felt good to be home again. I just wish I didn't have to leave.

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