It doesn’t matter that I live in California and that the weather this February afternoon is hovering just under eighty degrees. Ever since I was a kid growing up in Oregon, where Februaries are reliably wet and grey, those three words of reassurance that spring is almost here have whispered from the desert: “Pitchers and catchers.”*
Anyone who as visited this online apothecary of odds and ends knows that I’m a baseball fan, and will indulge me, I hope, this post written on a yellow legal pad as I sit at a picnic table watching my son’s baseball practice, pausing as I do to watch him charge grounders, run bases, and slap a single to right field.
It’s a post only sort of about education (my usual bread and butter), though any words written about baseball are written about life, and my professional life has been about teaching and learning since the first Clinton administration. Like baseball, education is a thinking person’s game, success predicated on strategy, preparation, and the ability to think on your feet.
Baseball isn’t a sport some of us stop thinking about. The long season encourages commitment, a relationship with the game built over 162 regular season games each season, and seasons stretching back to the 1840s. Football fans are identified by the bumper stickers on their trucks, and basketball fans by the $100 jerseys they wear over t-shirts. You know a baseball fan’s team by the weather-beaten cap worn every weekend all the year round.
It’s like that for great teachers, and principals like me too; education is that constant in our lives, that faded cap we know we’ll still be wearing in twenty years.
Part of the appeal is the beauty of it all when the distinct elements come together. Players, like my son and daughter, practice hitting, fielding, and running the bases, but the sum total of the game transcends each individual part. So too, we talk about the standards for teaching, each valuable in and of themselves, but none so great as the magical whole of a day in the classroom when things just click.
That magic of watching a deft teacher turn a cynical student comment into the opening remark of a spirited class discussion, that spell cast by a veteran storyteller delighting her students with tales of Aphra Behn, or that sorcery performed in an introductory chemistry class when a witty teacher decides that amazing her students may be the best way to capture them for the term… and by that I mean capture their hearts forever, with the experience of a chemical reaction that delights and surprises them… these are moments akin to a catch by Willie Mays or a line drive from the bat of Ted Williams.
School stories, like baseball stories, grow to legend with retelling. Our favorite teachers, like our favorite baseball players, become myth over years of remembrance.
…and it happens year after year after year.
My daughter is playing softball this season, and my heart finds my throat every time she faces a full count. My son is deciding to be a switch hitter, and I’m just waiting for the right time to introduce him to Eddie Murray. At eleven and seven, they have scores of teachers ahead of them. The stories they will remember from a lifetime of school are still being written.
They have so many more at bats.
The ups and downs that will come from those experiences, as they do for all of us, the triples and the strikeouts, the A’s and the F’s, the tragedy and the joy… these are the stuff of life. I appreciate that baseball, and school too, helps us all prepare for the adventures that are to come.
There are times we choke and there are times we choke up.
Today, however, is a time to revel in those three words that remind me that there’s always another chance, another season, another fresh start, another spring. Today, from Peoria to Sarasota, it’s pitchers and catchers!
* My wife, who is not a baseball fan, would let me know that for a great many readers, particularly those lured in with promises of a high school principal’s perspective on contemporary education, affection for the grand game isn’t a given. “Pitchers and catchers?” she’d ask sensibly. “What are you talking about?” Prosaically, the answer is that on February 18th, major league ballplayers who pitch and catch arrive at spring training, a couple of days before the rest of the team. Poetically, and that’s the way God intended baseball to be experienced (if she hadn’t, God wouldn’t have made the game so beautiful) the words “pitchers and catchers” mean anticipation, unlimited potential, hope, and spring.