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Further Afield - Night at ballpark a slice of America
luke cameron

To attend a night of slow-pitch softball games in one of the outlying leagues, Midway or Centertown or Morrison, is to enjoy a slice of Americana. Seeing someone you know, or even people you don’t know, play can be fun. Setting up a lawn chair or sitting in the bleachers, grabbing a hotdog and liquid refreshment from the concessions stand, sitting back, taking it easy, and watching. What a rejuvenating experience it can be. Seeing young people have fun can reinforce your well-founded faith in your fellow man and woman.

Slow-pitch softball is not as serious as fast-pitch softball. That is what makes it so fun to watch and to play. It is competitive but not too competitive. Batters who would be sure Ks in fast-pitch get to hit the ball and be a part of the action. Middling and atrocious players can get their moment in the sun. Slow-pitch softball is egalitarian, open, and tolerant of all ability levels. Even if you stink, you can be included and be part of a community. You can see through to the concept of possibility. For a couple shining moments you can make a pass at the infinite — and at the oversize ball coming at you so slowly that you cannot help but hit it.

Whether you are a player or a spectator, being at a Midway, Centertown, or Morrison ballpark on a spring or summer night, feeling the humid air, smelling the popcorn, being under the lights — it can be gently intoxicating. The languidness sucks you in like some kind of siren song.

For teenage players, the glow from those nights can last awhile, sometimes years. They and their friends are playing, but not really for keeps. They are playing to play. Graduation, college, jobs, families, futures, success and disappointment, await. For a while longer, though, the teenagers can have fun. Things are simple at the park.

If you are a spectator, watching game action is entertaining, but so is the other stuff: the ballpark nicknames, the congratulations and backslaps between teammates, the cheering, the conversations in the dugouts, the kids running around and playing stickball in the grass and chasing down foul balls, the idiosyncratic umpires, and the reactions of the coaches, whose temperaments can range from stoned to manic.

Nights at the ballpark are special. Time can become suspended there. Life can be deferred for the time being. Happiness reigns, and possibilities (for a run, a catch, a hit, a win) are abundant.

At the end of the 2001 film "Traffic," Benicio Del Toro’s character, who has endured much recent personal tragedy and tumult, heads to a ballpark. He has recently secured lights for the field, so that kids can play there at night. Del Toro sits in the stands with other spectators and watches with quiet satisfaction. Filmmaker Alex Withrow writes of this scene, “This is our big emotional payoff. Kids playing safely under the warm glow of the lights.”

Standard contributor Luke Cameron can be reached at 473-2191.