This will not seem like a farming-related post, but please bear with me. My friend Dave Pratt, who teaches Ranching for Profit schools throughout North America puts it best - everyone should care deeply about something that's absolutely meaningless in the larger scheme of things. For me (and for Dave), baseball is one of those things. Baseball gloves, however, do perhaps have a deeper meaning!
I listened to parts of the San Francisco Giants game this afternoon. The team held it's "Junior Giants Glove Drive" today - it was an effort to raise money and take donated gloves for disadvantaged kids in the Bay Area. Former Giants infielder, current broadcaster and Glove Drive chairman Duane Kuiper talked about how a baseball glove is something you keep for a long time. Gloves have stories that go with them! The Giants collected $27,500 and more than 500 donated ball gloves today!
Hearing about the Glove Drive on the radio, I reflected on my own experience playing baseball and encouraging others to take up the game. Most recently, my youngest daughter Emma has shown an interest in baseball. She's got an amazing arm for an 8-year-old, and she's learning to hit, too. She's using the first glove I ever owned - a Keystone glove (made in the U.S.) that my Dad bought for me when I was 5 or 6 at Mundorf's Hardware in Sonora. I'm using a Wilson A2000 XLC (also U.S.-made) that I saved for and bought with my own money when I was a freshman at Sonora High School (way back in 1982 - 30 years ago!). I can still remember my Mom taking me to Action Sports in Modesto to get it - I was so proud of that glove! I was a mediocre infielder in high school, but I had a great glove! To break it in, I rubbed it with neatsfoot oil, put a ball in it, and put it between my mattress and box springs for a week!
The Glove Drive also reminded me of my trip to the Dominican Republic and Cuba while I was part of the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 1997. Along with several of my classmates, I collected baseballs, gloves and caps to give away during our trip. Our first experience with this was in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Santo Domingo, D.R. As we walked down streets where raw sewage ran in the gutters, kids the age of Emma followed us on ramshackle bicycles and on foot. We decided to give them a half dozen new baseballs - most of them were wearing the caps of Major League teams. We tossed the shiny white hardballs to them and the most amazing thing happened - they gathered around each ball and held it, smelled it and talked about it. Each ball was then carefully tucked away - they kept playing with their old balls until they wore out, I think. I also gave a kid in a Dodgers' hat a glove I'd brought - he was in awe.
A week later, we arrived in Havana. On one of my first walks along the waterfront (the Malecon) I came upon a ballgame being played beneath a classical Spanish statue. The infield was cobblestones - which made ground balls tricky! I got the attention of the pitcher and tossed him a brand new ball. Immediately, all of the players from both teams gathered at the pitching "mound" to examine the ball. Again, they held it and smelled it - and put it away! While my lack of Spanish was a barrier to communication, it was evident that they appreciated the gift.
These memories suggest that baseball (and other sports) are far from meaningless. I frequently find myself disgusted by the greed and lack of ethics of many professional athletes. However, I also find myself getting choked up tonight as I remember how treasured a new baseball was to some of the poorest kids I'll ever meet. Sports, at least at the amateur and recreational level, can remind us of our commonality and our humanity. For me, baseball holds a special place - it's part of my family heritage. I can distinctly remember my Grampa and my Dad talking about players they had both seen. I can remember pretending to be Ron Cey in my Aunt's backyard while waiting anxiously to go to the Dodgers' game later that evening (I was probably Emma's age). As an adult, I became a Giants fan - and I remember the thrill of listening to the final out of the 2010 World Series (as do my daughters!). Picking up my old glove to play catch with my daughter involves all of these memories! Kudos to the Giants for helping more kids start their own stories!