There was another baseball game to watch Wednesday night. So I grabbed my pad and a pen and drove to Heron Lake on a hot early evening to watch the Worthington Cubs and Lakefield Horned Frogs go at it.
The players know me. I’ve been around sports in this area for as long as they can remember, so I was greeted by my first name in the dugouts as I arrived to jot down the lineups.
Everyone was in a good mood. And why wouldn’t they be? The sun was shining, the field looked perfect, and the players were gathered together in clean uniforms -- the Cubs in blue tops and gray pants, with bright orange numbers; the Horned Frogs in black tops and white pants. Everyone looked sharp. “Frogs” in purple lettering and white trim adorned the chests of the Lakefield players, and it made me smile. The Cubs, too, looked sharp, and after having played sharp in two previous summer exhibitions, it is obvious to everyone who watches them that they are ready both mentally and physically to compete this year.
The game was good. It wasn’t decided until the bottom of the seventh inning. It was scheduled to go seven games.
While I was watching the game, leaned up against a tree squinting into the setting sun, I heard people around me on the bleachers and in their lawn chairs chattering about how happy they are that baseball is back. Nearby, a couple of fans came with their small dog on a leash. Young girls arrived in short shorts. Old men wearing caps to shield their heads from the sun enjoyed the action and remembered when they, too, were young.
All they wanted, it seemed, was the chance to get out of their homes and to watch baseball again. They saw their sons, their brothers, their friends, in those sparkling uniforms and it didn’t matter so much who won the game. It was just good to be out there.
The Horned Frogs won the game, but in the Cubs dugout players took the setback in stride. They had a horrible year last year -- didn’t win a game -- but they know they’re better this year. They’ve got good leadership and they’ve all bought into the idea that nobody’s going to overlook Worthington this year on any amateur baseball field.
It’s a young team, and young teams sometimes fall apart after an awful year. But sometimes they grow up together, becoming more and more confident. That’s what I think the Cubs will be in 2020.
Two days earlier, I went to the middle school baseball field in Worthington and watched Senior Legion practice. But technically, I suppose, it’s not the Legion team this year. About a month ago, the parent American Legion organization canceled the season as fears of the coronavirus pandemic still gripped the nation. The teams (some of them, anyway) still wanted to play. Worthington is one that will play, though players are not allowed to wear patches on their uniforms that remind people that they’re really connected (or at least were connected) to the Legion.
Well that’s fine with me. And no doubt fine with all the young men who just want to play ball.
It is a time, I think, to be happy and content. So it might also be a time to turn off the cable news channels and maybe even repress that primal urge to bask so passionately in the fortunes of professional sports.
Or, if not to repress that primal urge, to at least approach it more philosophically.
The major league baseball season is planning a comeback: a 60-game season, supposedly to begin on July 24. But as of this writing, we really don’t know for sure. The players and the owners don’t trust each other, and the coronavirus still hangs in the air. How long before the players are going to be ready? What happens when more players come down with the virus? How meaningful is a 60-game season, anyway? Do the players even care about baseball at this point? And let’s be honest: Isn’t it all about money?
If you’re a typical pro sports fan like me, you’re feeling a little queasy these days. It’s quite obvious that many pro players are becoming increasingly sensitive to the revolution-tinged political winds swirling around them. Me, I just want to watch my favorite players play and root for the same guys I rooted for for years. But it’s going to be a bit difficult to do that when they’re preaching at me.
Frankly, I’m going to have moments when I question myself on why I still care.
Thankfully, there’s no reason to second guess ourselves this summer as we watch our home-town boys play ball. They give us many reasons to care. And the sun continues to shine.
Baseball is still baseball here in southwest Minnesota, so grab your lawn chair and enjoy it while it lasts.