Digging through a stack of clothes on my closet floor, I find the pink thermal underwear. I put them on under a pair of particularly loose jeans. The long-sleeved thermal T-shirt came next, on top of which I layered a short sleeved T and sweatshirt. I grabbed a red scarf to tie around my neck for both fashion sense and extra warmth. Sticking my travel mug under the Keurig for a cup of hot coffee to go, I gathered my winter coat, leather gloves and hat. I would need these tonight.
It’s April 3rd in Northeastern Ohio. It’s 37 degrees outside with a 15 mile an hour wind whipping over the frozen tundra of the Valley today. At least the sun is shining, I think as I also grab my sunglasses and head out for the baseball field.
I go through a mental checklist in my head of items I should have remembered to stock in the concession stand, which I am in charge of for the season. I think we’re good. Plenty of hot chocolate and coffee tonight.
Tonight I’m going to watch Louie play for the JV baseball team. Our team plays away, a Canton City school whose field is on a pretty rough side of town. A mural of an old-time player, a ball and a glove are painted on the dugout with the words, “Over A Hundred Years Of Baseball at Cook Park. 1891-2007.” I think about how much the field and the area has probably changed in that time period.
I can hardly imagine the field at the crossroads of two dirt paths, the horses which probably carried spectators and players alike tied to a tree or a fence post that is long gone. I try to imagine what the field looked like in the 1950’s when my father-in-law played baseball there for SV. Paved streets now, nearby factories puff white smoke from the chimneys, hard at work making steel or engine parts. A train may have come through on the tracks that still lie next to the field while some poor pitcher was down in the count with the bases loaded.
How much would the field have changed by the late 1980s when The Doc played? The fence in the outfield, from the looks of it, is the same one over which he hit at least one home run. The lights? I should ask him if they were there when he played or if they’re a twenty-first century addition.
As I neared the field I noticed the homes, paint peeling and porches sagging wearily. The roads are full of pot holes, and sidewalks are cracked and weedy. The buildings surrounding the fields are empty now, windows boarded up with graffiti decorating the plywood. Weeds and grass have overtaken the tracks no train has probably warmed in years. The few trees that stand around the field have yet to bud, so they stand stark and naked in the cold afternoon.
Our team of twelve brings with it over twenty spectators: parents, siblings, grandparents, friends of the players. The opposing team has no fans when the first pitch is thrown. Their nine players take the field and while they are warming up it becomes quickly evident that it will be a long evening as the pitcher struggles to lob the ball over the plate anywhere near the strike zone.
Two hours later the score is 24-0 in our favor. The temperature has probably dropped at least five degrees, but there’s no concession stand for hot chocolate or coffee. The opposing team, now with a hand full of people watching, battles on. It’s painful for us all to watch. Nobody likes to see such a lopsided contest.
Looking around, I realize that this game, this field, this situation is nothing more than a microcosm of America. We live in a very lopsided country. Even in the Valley, where 70% of our students are on free and reduced lunch programs, how much more opportunities and support do our kids have than these city kids? The city they live in, once thriving, has been left abandoned as local companies have shipped their jobs overseas to see higher profits, and what’s been left are those without skill or education or opportunity to move on. Over a hundred years ago, this was a place where the American Dream could likely have been realized by hard-working folks. Today, how much more difficult it must be for people here to overcome the odds in order to achieve the modestly comfortable life my kids will expect to live some day.
I think of what this field has seen in its history, and it makes me a little bit sad. While the game is the same, the world is so different. We tend to believe that “change” and “progress” is always for the better, but I had to wonder about that last night when I got in my car and locked my door to head home.