Today the second half of the Major League Baseball season starts in what sports writers have termed “the dog days of baseball.” I’ve always loved this phrase that describes baseball in July and August; the days are long and hot, more day games are scheduled, and the games start to take on an air of a sort of peaceful monotony.
It’s a part of the season that reminds me why I grew up loving the game, even when it became slow, and I would have rather been anywhere except practice. Each spring baseball is reborn, and each fall it comes to a wild and exciting conclusion, but it’s the middle of the season when baseball- and the longest season in American sports- starts becoming just another ho-hum part of everyday life. It’s said that baseball is America’s pastime, and it’s during the dog days when it earns that title.
I grew up worshiping baseball. Each day I would go out to the front yard and throw a tennis ball against the wall of our rammed-earth house, playing out a simulated game in my mind. In these games I would be the pitcher (to throw to the wall/batter) , a random infielder (to field the grounder that came off the wall), the first baseman (to catch the throw from the infielder coming off the wall), the umpire (to call balls and strikes), and the announcer (to explain to my imaginary audience just how great of a player I was). After each three outs I would grab my bat and take cuts at imaginary pitches, while continuing to call my own balls and strikes (I was a very biased umpire), and give play-by-play to my imaginary fans.
I’ll admit that these games were not always the most realistic. As a pitcher I struck out a majority of the batters I faced (I’m not sure my imagined competition ever got a hit off me). At the plate I never missed, and always hit either a home run, or legged-out an extra-base hit. In fact, each game ended with me winning it by either striking out three batters in a row, hitting a home run, or sometimes both.
It was this sort of ritualistic training, and love for the game that drove me to show up at my local baseball diamond at least an hour early for each of my little league practices, and why I kept playing after having a tough game, or being berated by a coach. My dedication to the game never wavered; baseball was something bigger than me, and it still is.
I think to really apprecitate the dog days of baseball you have to understand and cherish the small parts of the game. Baseball, more than any other sport I know, revolves as much around the unseen as it does the seen. So many calculations and secret signs are made out of view of the fans and cameras. Pitchers and catchers conspire to throw the perfect pitch depending on the count. Fielders go over a multitude of possible scenarios for what might happen if the ball is put in play. Coaches rack their brains to come up with ways to scrape together a run.
Sometimes things go wrong: a pitcher melts down, a fielder boots an easy play, a runner misses a sign, a hitter strikes out looking. But sometimes things go miraculously right: a grounder takes a lucky hop, a teammate goes on an inexplicable hot streak at the plate, the ump gives you a call you don’t deserve, a gust of wind blows your pop-fly just out of reach of the nearest outfielder.
Like baseball, so much of life is in the details. It’s about hidden signs, strategy, repetition, and dumb luck. In life, some days you win, some days you lose, and some days you never get off the bench. But no matter what happens, you get up the next morning and do it again. Life demands it. Like baseball, life- and all that it entails- is bigger than you or me.