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The Old Ball Game

One hundred eight double stitches hold together two pieces of cowhide, which cover a rubber cork wrapped in yarn. To me, these materials hold together a lifetime of memories, centuries of history, and nostalgia for summer sunshine, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the seventh inning stretch.

It’s the symbol of our national pastime, a symbol of unity and morale building. At nine inches around and weighing five ounces, the real weight can’t be measured. It brought together the Billy Yanks and the Johnny Rebs during the Civil War. It broke race barriers in 1947 when number 42 stepped up to the plate in Brooklyn. Shoeless kids in the Dominican Republic dream of earning a better life with the Major Leagues. In 162 games played over 180 days, fans let down their guards, becoming friends with strangers next to them.

It’s the maker of myths and superstition. There’s a place in New Jersey named after a field where mortals related to Greek gods went after death: Elysian Fields, site of the first organized game in 1845. Greek poet Hesiod said Elysium was where people could “live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed…” How fitting a description for a game that brings smiles to faces of young and old alike.

Call it a can of corn, a pea, Uncle Charlie, or a Baltimore chop, no matter how it’s thrown or caught, this symbol is not without its pain. Like when “Charlie Hustle,” who hit it more than anyone else, let fans down by betting on his team. Or when the great Sandy Koufax pitched in agony because of severe arthritis and was forced into an early retirement. Or when Curt Schilling kept throwing, despite his bloody sock.

In that same season, the Red Sox broke the curse, won the title of World Champions, and a police officer controlling crowds hit young Victoria Snelgrove with a pepper spray projectile. To me, this was a blow and a defining moment. Working in the studio at WERS, Emerson College’s radio station, where both Snelgrove and I were students, I was first to hear of her death. “Victoria Snelgrove passed this afternoon,” I said on-air, as her advisor and professor stood crying in the studio. Talk about pain. I’ll never forget how it broke my heart that day.

But it doesn’t only hold sorrow for me. It’s kept because of the joyous memories. It was caught at a minor league game in Tennessee on my husband’s birthday, two days before our wedding.

It’s kept because my dad taught me to swing at it in our yard when I was a little kid. I can switch hit because, as a lefty, I was confused that no one played like me.

It’s kept because sweating in the stands with other Chattanooga Lookouts fans is where I choose to be between April and October.

Smelling of leather and dirt, it’s a keeper of memories, a breaker of hearts, a maker of dreams, a baseball.

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