By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
They say baseball is America’s pastime, and I believe it to be true.
Growing up, baseball was the only sport that I played from the time I was old enough to play until they literally had to tell me I was too old to play rec league.
Standing along the fence at Mary Lou Retton Park Saturday morning, watching the kids run onto the baseball diamond for Opening Day of Fairmont Little League, I was taken back.
I can remember my first Opening Day. I played for the Rangers. I remember lining up with my teammates, excited for what the day would bring. Of course, my mother took pictures of me in the yard before we even left the house, much to my dismay.
But once at the ballpark, I was enamored at the surroundings.
I could smell hot dogs cooking. I could see sprinkles of chalk left over from when the field was lined perfectly by a coach. I could hear the crackle of the announcer’s voice as he called our team onto the field. The Little League field, at that. The field that we all had hoped to become stars on one day.
I can perfectly recall my first game, even better because my family has it on video.
I played the pitcher position even though there wasn’t an actual pitcher who threw the ball in T-ball. I remember this fondly because I created a dust storm in the lined circle which told me where to stand. I slid my feet back and forth so much in the dirt that you could barley even tell there was a pitcher out there. Over the video footage of the scene, you can hear my parents laughing about it.
From T-ball on up, I always remember my mom being at the games. Even if she did complain that they lasted way too long, she was always there with her fold-out chair, sitting by the fence and wondering what’s actually going on on the field.
She didn’t know the difference between an infield fly and a triple, but she would cheer nonetheless.
As I grew older, she would drop me off on Saturday mornings for the first game at 8 a.m. and pick me up after the last one of the night at 9 p.m., leaving me money to get some food throughout the day and seeing me in between for my game.
See, the ballpark was the one place where a protective mother, who is still overly protective today even though I’m 23 years old, could leave her son and trust that he’d be safe all day.
The ballpark was a second home to me from the month of April until June, or July, depending on if I made the All-Star team.
It was a place where all of my friends were. It was where boys would tease the girls and then get made fun of by those same girls for having to wear yellow socks as part of their uniform. It was where friendships grew, no matter the age.
That memory was brought back to me Saturday, watching three kids wrestle over a foul ball hit during the home run derby after opening ceremonies.
They weren’t fist-fighting but instead grappling for their own piece of the ballpark. It brought a smile to my face when I saw the smallest one come up victorious, proudly hoisting his prize over his head, feeling as if he had just won the biggest award known to man. But I guess for a small ballplayer, getting a foul ball hit off the bat of a Little Leaguer ranks up there with winning a Nobel Peace Prize.
Throughout the day I saw coaches and players have a smile on their face no matter what. During the entire time that I was at the field, I didn’t see one unhappy person.
So when I think of baseball, I don’t think of the sadness of the season ending or the heartbreak of losing a one-run game. I think about the countless smiles that the game of baseball has put on my face and the faces of others over the years.
And now, I’ll be able to remember the smile that came across my face when I saw that that very same happiness is still alive and well in today’s youth.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.