My wife shakes her head at the whole thing. We’ve been together since college, and even then she knew that part of who I am inside is a twelve year old boy, a baseball fan, happy when I’m wearing a Dodgers cap and eating peanuts out of the shell.
Now, as our six year old son’s eyes were opened by the glossy foil of a pack of baseball cards, I see her smilingly resigning herself to the realization that there are now two of us.
The beauty of baseball has been articulated by better pens than mine, Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer and Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax to name just two. Even Ken Burns’ documentary on the game begins with a quotation about baseball by Walt Whitman.
As an educator who writes a bit, baseball has helped me in my role of middle school principal in unexpected ways.
In the fall it was an easy connection with students and staff, both the few who rooted for my favorite team, and the overwhelming majority here in San Diego County who pull for the Padres. I lived a decade in the Bay Area as a Dodger fan, honing my banter to simultaneously stand up for my bums and not offend the local culture. This isn’t to say that I don’t talk theater with my acting students or riddles, books, or music, but my blue LA cap is like a magnet for conversation, especially with adolescent boys (who sometimes need an excuse to talk with adults).
It’s not just the kids.
Larry Tye’s great biography of Satchel Paige led to some fantastic conversations with my head custodian, and even prompted my assistant principal to share a song called “Satchel Paige” by a local band he knows. A debate about Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider has carried on for weeks between my campus supervisor, a veteran PE teacher, and me. Willie Mays was not mentioned. It’s me and a couple of Yankee fans.
Baseball invites conversation, sometimes not even about baseball.
I can honestly say that one of the most interesting and renewing professional conversations I’ve had this year was with a friend and fellow site administrator as we watched Mike Trout’s Angels play in the beautiful “Big A.”
As the game progressed, and on our drive to and from the ballpark, we talked about everything from restorative practices to managing high school athletic supervision. We saw a rookie second baseman get two hits in his first game in the majors, and discussed how we help students new to our schools become part of the team. By the time the night was over I’d set up a time to visit his school to watch a student led forum that I’d like to import to my own school next year.
Learning from failure, working together for a common cause, believing in something greater than ourselves… all these things can be learned from more than just baseball, but for me, a Dodger fan in a sea of Padres, a principal at a site with only one other administrator, this common ground has been beautiful.
Now, as spring inches toward summer and the kids are beginning to play ball on the diamond adjacent to our school, I’m the fellow who finds himself walking across campus whistling “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”