Thursday, July 4, 2019

Finding America on the Fourth of July

Downtown Woodstock, Georgia getting ready for the Fourth
 (Cherokee Tribune photo)


On this Fourth of July, there will be church barbeques, small-town parades and fireworks displays in cities across the nation. I heard that there is some kind of big to do up in our nation’s capital involving tanks and such. I’m staying home, though, where the real America is lived out each day. I’m going to delight in the idea of all of those small town picnics and plates of barbeque served by volunteers out of church basements and fellowship halls.

I’m also going to think about those things that have inspired me about life in America since my childhood days.  Maybe I’ll think about baseball. After all, we call it our national pastime. The game has inspired such movies as Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, Bad News Bears, The Natural, and Angels in the Outfield

I hope there are some baseball games going on somewhere on the Fourth, maybe sponsored by local Kiwanis or Lions Clubs. I remember one Fourth of July when I actually saw my mother in a baseball game. There was a day of festivities there in the small town of Jackson's Gap, Alabama. The community gathering was at the school where there was space for barbeque, pony rides, and other activities. There was a small ball field with bleachers where the baseball games took place.

My older brother came up to me and said, "Did you know Mom's going to play baseball?" I couldn't believe it, but there was a women's game coming up and they had talked Mom into playing. I must have been about six years old, but I can still remember watching her step up to the plate and actually getting a hit!

I have some wonderful memories generated by baseball. We could walk down to our small town ballpark on warm summer nights to watch the little league teams play. We kids enjoyed the summer night outings, the snow cones, and the gathering of friends before we understood the game. Then there were the peanuts.

There was a fellow in our home town who was at every outdoor event (which meant baseball and football) selling his own roasted peanuts. Everyone called him “Jam-up,” I suppose it was because he was a thin man, with a hunched back, but that was how he was known. Everyone liked Jam-up, and his peanuts were always perfectly roasted.

The game is so full of fun that we are disturbed when things go awry. The country was shocked by the “Black Sox Scandal” in which eight major league members were barred from the game for intentionally losing the 1919 World Series game. The memorable line from that story, “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” was reportedly uttered by a boy to “Shoeless" Joe Jackson, one of the eight team members indicted in that scandal, as he left the courtroom. I felt the same way the year that Sammy Sosa’s bat cracked, revealing a cork interior, and many have felt that way with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps it is the memory of those small-town little league games that is where the true essence of baseball lies. There we saw the magic of teamwork along with the impressive individual feats of skill. We learned about winning, losing, and those especially harrowing moments when we were “Oh so close.” Then we all went back to our homes, talked about it a little bit, maybe recounted it with friends the next day, and then it was on to something else. 

Here’s hoping that we can let our national pastime can teach us a bit about how to navigate our national troubles. The game has endured scandals, cheats, bumbling owners, money schemes, and a few missed calls. In spite of it all, the game goes on. I can still enjoy a summer’s evening watching the Birmingham Barons out on the baseball diamond while visiting with friends and finding those snow cones and roasted peanuts. It’s still one place we can go to find America.



Birmingham's Regions Field (Photo from Baseball Parks.com)

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