A few years ago I found myself back on the east side of St. Paul, standing on the bleachers of an empty East Twins Babe Ruth League ball field, staring off into the dugouts, gazing toward the outfield, remembering how it felt when all that mattered in my life was hanging out with my buddies on that field.
Summers were sacred. We spent an entire snowy school year yearning for their return, and when they came, they raced by quicker than a Chris Fairbanks fastball (which I rarely ever caught up with, even on my best day.) When we weren’t on the ball field, we were at my family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, or at the playground looking for a pickup game, or, in the mid-teen years, wondering where the girls were (the ones who spent their summers watching us shag flies and grounders on that ball field.)
Now that I’m in my 40s, I realize it was about so much more than baseball. Just as other summer activities are about so much more than softball or camp or marching band. They are about figuring out who you are, and doing it outside of a school setting (where the rules of a school and classroom dictate everything.) Summer activities are perfect precisely because they come into our lives so briefly, and they force us to rely on our character to find success. You can skate by unnoticed and average in school and still be passed on to the next grade. On your summer baseball team, that idea doesn’t exist. That kind of self-camouflage and apathy results in a kind of calling out that usually ends badly and with an abrupt end to a season.
Now, being on the other side of the action — watching it all from the bleachers instead of the dugouts — I’ve got a much better perspective on how important summers are for a kid (and often in ways a kid may not even recognize.)