The Agony (and Zen) of Little League

“How much longer does this go?” I ask the parent next to me. “It’s only the first inning,” she responds. What?! I have this conversation several times a week during the start of baseball season. How could my buns have gone numb against these metal bleachers in only one inning? I check my watch. I check my phone. I wonder why no one else looks like they’re trapped in an elevator. I’m sure my hair’s grown an inch since this game started.

A little kids’ baseball game can start to feel like a hostage situation. The fact that it might last for three hours could be the reason that it’s called America’s pastime. By the bottom of the third, I’m pretty much thinking it’s past time. I spend the first few games of the season resisting baseball in this way, mentally willing that kid in center field to catch just one fly ball to move things along.

For me, baseball is like yoga. From the expressions of concentration on the faces around me, I have the sense that something very important is happening, yet I see almost nothing happening at all. I get fidgety and start making mental lists. Everyone else seems to have come seeking this slower pace, and I’m baffled by their collective tranquility.

You can probably tell that I need baseball and yoga more than anyone. I tend to approach a Saturday with a list and move through the events on that list as quickly as possible to obtain that fleeting sense of accomplishment that comes with having gotten in bed at night with a list all checked off. I’m a bit hooked on getting stuff done, which is probably why I like basketball. In at noon, out at one. On to the next thing. Watching a red-faced child stumble off of a basketball court gives me the sense that much has been achieved in an economical amount of time.

Yoga is avoidable, but baseball keeps dragging me back in year after year. And each season, around the third game, I surrender to the fact that there’s just no rushing in baseball. I start bringing my own chair. I start bringing my own drinks. I stop planning things for the afternoon. I notice the newly familiar faces around me, and I edge my way into their conversations. All lined up, watching I’m-not-sure-what, the conversation is easy and is seldom about baseball. I start to hate it less.

I start noticing that people bring their parents, and I start noticing how much I want to talk to people’s parents. I scoot my folding chair closer to the older generation, and within minutes I start actually liking baseball. I ask them questions, they tell me stories. Long stories. They’re not the sort of stories you can fit into a Facebook post or a tweet. In fact, older people don’t feel at all compelled to make a long story short. We’re at a baseball game, after all.  We have all the time in the world.

When a 75-year-old man meets you for the first time, he immediately recognizes you as a new set of ears. He starts in with some well-seasoned small talk, and then he brings out his best stuff: the time he met Jimmy Carter, the time he dated his wife’s sister and realized he had the wrong girl, the distance he walked to caddy as a kid and the lessons he learned eavesdropping on golfers. My father-in-law has a story about the time his four-year-old brother wandered off to the movie house during the war. I’ve heard it a dozen times, and I can’t do it justice. In a lifetime, a person accumulates maybe ten great stories. A baseball game is almost long enough to share five of them.

Meanwhile, someone kicks up some dust, someone finally makes contact with the ball, and little children are running the bases, over and over. My heart rate is down and my pulse has slowed to the rhythm of the game. People around us start to pack up their coolers, but the last story’s not quite over. We make no move to leave. I’m not sure what the big hurry was anyway.