The Hope That Only Comes in Spring

It was a hot, windy day in the Arizona spring, but it felt glorious to Jesse Ramirez as he jogged out to his position at shortstop–getting the start today, his first start so far in his first spring training.  Just ten months out of high school, Jesse knew that while the games were just exhibitions, they were also auditions.  Every play that he made, every hit he collected brought him that much closer to the big leagues—to getting to play before thousands in parks that were like palaces, to being paid a king’s ransom for playing the game he loved so much that he would play it for free.

It was a Sunday and the park was filling up quickly with baseball fans decked out In their team jerseys and summer wear.  Jesse looked out at the grass beyond the outfield, teaming with folks spreading out blankets and lawn chairs, filling up every available space.  He had never played before a crowd like this.

They warmed up with throws to the first baseman, while the pitcher, Rich Davies, took his warm-up tosses.  Jesse marveled at the smooth field and the manicured lawn, a lustrous green, easily the nicest field he’d ever played on.  Even in spring training, the facilities were so much more deluxe than anything he’d ever seen.  His long, lean body felt loose and easy in the heat as he stooped to sweep up the easy grounder thrown to him, moved to his right and unleashed a bullet throw back to first.

Warm-ups over, he jogged over to the second baseman, Roberto Morales, to check on signs. Robbie was the team’s regular second baseman, a three-time All Star and last year’s batting champion.  Jesse felt starstruck with the idea that he was going to be sharing the same field with him for the next couple of hours.  Everyone in the line-up was, or had been at one time, a major league starter except for Jesse.  He’d been called up from the minor league fields when the regular shortstop went down with a leg injury.  He knew he was lucky to be there.

He and Robbie turned toward the outfield to go over the signs so the opposing team couldn’t see or hear them.  “Let’s keep it simple, kid,” said Robbie.  “If the runner’s black or brown, you cover second on the steal.  I’ll cover on the white guys.  OK?”

Jesse thought maybe he was being pranked and hesitated as he saw the smile in the veteran’s eyes.  “Relax, kid.  It’s just practice.  Let’s have some fun out here today.” Jesse breathed and tried to relax.

“Yeah, I’ll try to remember.”

Robbie grabbed him by the jersey, pulled him close and smiled.  “Hey, kid, the word is you’re good.  So, have some goddam fun and show me something today, OK?”  Robbie turned and jogged back into position as the pitcher groomed the dirt in front of the rubber and dug in to face the first batter. “Come on everybody,” he yelled to the team and the fans, “let’s play two!”

Rich went into his wind-up and fired a scorching fastball toward home plate, but the lead-off hitter was primed for it and lashed a liner to center for a single.  Davies stood on the mound, hands on hips and cursed as he waited for the ball to be returned.  Robbie grabbed the relay and tossed it to him.  “Come on Richie, shake it off man.  Get this guy. Show us some of that nasty stuff you got.”

Jesse marveled at Robbie’s easy command of the infield.  His words seemed to settle the pitcher down, who completely baffled the next hitter with his fastball, sinker, slider combination and struck him out swinging on three pitches.

The catcher fired the ball down to third on the strikeout and it made its way around the infield and back to the pitcher on the mound. “That’s what I’m talking about,” chattered Robbie.  “Now throw us a ground ball, Rich.  Jesse and I wanna turn two for you.  Double play. Look sharp, Jess.  Comin’ to you.”

Robbie waved him a couple of steps deeper into the hole at short.  The batter was the opposing team’s best hitter, and he took a fierce swing at a slider in the dirt for strike one.  Rich threw a high fastball for a ball on the second pitch, and then a tight sinker right down the middle of the plate.  The batter jumped on it, but the ball had faded down just enough that he got his bat on the top half of the ball and hit a scorching grounder up the middle headed for center field.

Even before the crack of the bat, Jesse could see that the ball would be headed deep to his left. He launched himself as he watched the ball come off the bat, and felt the game slowing down for him.  Without thinking really, he performed a quick calculation of where he needed to get to in the next split second, juggling what he could see, with the sound of the ball coming off the bat, the effort behind the swing, the initial trajectory of the ball.  “I’ve got this,” he thought. He could see the intense topspin of the ball and knew it was going to dive into the turf, pick up speed and likely skim the surface of the grass.  In mid-stride, he adjusted slightly and dove, his eyes glued to the ball now, seeing the red stitches swirling over the pristine white rawhide as he extended his long frame and watched the ball slide into the webbing of his glove.  As he rolled on the turf, he caught a freeze frame picture of the motion on the infield: the umpire moving into position, both Robbie and the runner converging on the second-base bag.  With no time for a decent throw and the ball still in his glove, he flipped it toward second base putting a tantalizing arc on the ball, like an alley-oop pass in basketball, sending it toward the empty base.

And in a blink, Robbie simultaneously snared the ball out of the air with his bare hand, tapped he bag with the toe of his cleat, leaping and turning his body in mid-air as if weightless before whipping the ball over to first.

The two umpires called “Out!” almost simultaneously and the crowd was on its feet delighted to see such an acrobatic, highlight-reel play before they had even finished their first hot dog.

Jesse popped up and dusted off his uniform as he trotted back to the dugout.  Robbie fell in beside him and they tapped gloves.  “Yessir, my man.  Now, that was something.  That was something right there.”

Jesse accepted the high-fives and fist bumps as he came in the dugout.  Most of the guys called him “kid” or “buddy” or “rook” as they congratulated him because hardly anyone knew his name.  He sat on the bench next to Robbie waiting for his turn at bat.  Robbie draped his arm around Jesse’s shoulder and leaned in closely.  “Today,” he said, “these boys don’t know your name.  But someday they will.  I can feel it in my bones and my bones, they never lie. These boys are gonna know your name.”

 

Hope and Despair: Ripped From The Headlines

 

Since the election of November 2016, I’ve really tried at times to insulate myself from the news simply because there seems to be so much happening that tears at my heart when I see the direction in which our country is being led.  That direction seems to be so dedicated to abusing the interests of people in need, the disenfranchised, and the environment that it is painful to read about.

One glimmer of hope is that I know I am not alone in noticing.

So, I have returned to reading the paper with my coffee in the morning and steeling myself against the worst of the news I might face.  Today was a pretty bad day.

Headline:  White House Proposes $4.4 Trillion Budget

The despair:  There is a lot to hate in this budget.  It seems to slash at the programs that help people the most.  Just to point out two things.  It proposes cutting the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by over 20%–you know, that little department that until recently worked really hard to make sure that we had clean air and clean water?  That ensured that we would move forward toward a future of sustainable, renewable energy?  That we would support world-wide efforts to battle the causes of climate change?  By contrast, the budget increases spending on the military by 13%.  That is a whopping increase, and it is hard to buy the argument that somehow Obama “hollowed out” our military preparedness when the previous budget exceeded the military budgets of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Britain, Japan, and Germany combined.  To help pay for this enormous increase, the proposed budget suggests cutting the food stamp program.

The hope:  Congress has ignored most of the draconian cuts to social programs and even made substantive increases in health care and other services, but they will wrap themselves in the flag and pass the military budget with no questions asked.

Headline:  Transgender Student Protections Curbed

The despair:  Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions are at it again, rolling back protections for trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their chosen gender identity.  It seems this decree only helps adults who are made uncomfortable by the existence of trans people and fervently hope they will just go away.  Living in California where gender-neutral bathrooms in most public spaces are becoming the norm, their action does little harm.  However, it once again, codifies this administration’s hostility toward the LGBTQ community.

The hope:  It will take years, as it did for gay marriage, but stronger legal protections for the trans community are coming.  We will have to wait for the Trump aberration to pass and for societal attitudes to evolve, but I believe that I will see it in my lifetime.

The Headline:  Woman, 84, Held Over Gunshot

The despair:  Yeah, just in case you missed this one, in rural Northern California an 84-year-old woman was arrested after she took out her rifle and shot in the direction of her neighbor’s 8 and 10 year-old children because they were being too noisy.  Apparently the kids were riding motorcycles and after arguing with the parents, the woman got her rifle out and took a couple of shots toward the kids.  No one was injured.

The hope:  (Sigh) I’m not even sure what to say.

In an effort to gain some wisdom by stealing from the best, I am currently reading The Book of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as recorded and stitched together by author Douglas Abrams.  Abrams poses the question how one should cope with the despair that many people feel with all of the injustice, and pain, and suffering that we see in the world.  The archbishop responded this way:  “Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak.  Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope.  To chose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

I like that he asks me to embrace hope as an active, vital, and valiant choice. It is a choice made by a warrior, someone ready for action now, but also confident in the good things that the future will bring.