AFoggyone's Baseball

My soul is forever lodged there; my heart trapped for all eternity. My mind is locked up, with the keys a grass-stained baseball, an old leather glove, and a small wooden bat.

For me, any joy or spot of happiness is just a mild sensation moving through my body. Happiness is the crack of a baseball as it sails off a bat, and disappears into a swirling throng of fans.

Baseball tickets are always available; they are never sold out. A hot dog and soda are not high priced snacks, but lunch and dinner.

My team is always number one, no matter what the records say. And my players are always the best, no matter if they win or lose.

There is no such thing as a contract dispute or a lockout or a strike. The players will smile and laugh as they sign a ball or slip of paper for you.

The grass is green, the sun is hot, and the sky is crystal blue. A ball is hit, and the crowd stands and cheers. The home team scores, and the game is won. The crowd files noisily out, and the sleeping boy has a wide smile across his face, as he remembers the ball that he caught that hot summer day.

Baseball is constant and unchanging. Each season brings new faces, but the mystical part of baseball remains the same, never changing, never moving, with the world, and me, rotating around it.

But recently there has been a strike, and for a time no one walked on Camden Yards. But baseball is being played once again, and people still flock to the stadiums.

But the number of people isn't as large. And the plays that are made aren't as good. The manager makes mistakes, the outfielders drop balls, the pitcher walks batters. Something is wrong.

Hot dogs are about three dollars each, a far cry from what I remember. And sodas, so desperately wanted on a blistering day, are scarcely found for less than two. I can't eat at the game now. The prices have gone up.

Everytime that a ball is hit, I stand and hold my breath. But it doesn't come to me anymore. The balls don't go to the left field bleachers now. They go to center, or to the first baseman. They pop to the backstop, or role to the ground crew. They stay away from my foul pole. It's not the same.

The players are irresponsible. They either throw firecrackers at the fans, or they fail to run out grounders. They lounge lazily in the dugout, then hurry to escape the crowds. The players don't care.

It seems like no one cares. The stadiums aren't as full. The players aren't as good. No matter what happens on the field, the players are losers. The game has changed.

On September 5, I watched baseball for just the third time since the strike ended. And on September 6, I watched again. I didn't watch to see who won or who lost. I didn't care that half the players I saw cared more for their money than for their sport. I cared only for one thing, for one man. I cared for Cal Ripken.

The stadium was full. The fans were cheering. And Cal was taking a victory lap around the field, thanking the fans for their support, thanking them for caring.

Hot dogs are still expensive, and tickets cost a fortune. Some of the players are greedy, and another strike may occur.

But the stadium still gets filled. The grass is still green and the sky is still blue. And Cal Ripken, at least, still loves the game he plays, and he still loves the fans.

For a while, it seemed that baseball was dead, that everything that made it great had disappeared. The magic was gone. But Cal Ripken, the greatest magician and the hardest worker in baseball, made something happen. And baseball is back on track again. I can love my sport once more. Thank you, Mr. Ripken.