COLUMN: In Wiffleball And Sports, All Are One
Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 22:04
During the summer before eighth grade, my friends and I transformed my backyard into a wiffleball field.
We gathered some bags of sand, spray paint, and an old pitchback to turn the property behind my family home into a sanctuary of its own. Sleeves were rolled up to carve out an infield, dollar bills were pitched in to buy a case of pristine new wiffleballs, and what had once been a typical yard now bore the semblance of a miniature Fenway—that is, if Fenway was built by the hands of some bright-eyed middleschoolers.
Before Mom could protest, Dad (who funded our bold “operation”) convinced her that it’d be a nice way of getting the boys all together for some innocent summer fun, and that both of them would miss these days not so long in the future when all of us would be off on our separate ways for college.
So we played that whole summer, and then six summers after that, crushing homeruns onto my deck—renamed the Pink Monster—and emulating the defensive gems of our major league heroes during extra-inning classics on hot afternoons. Gut-wrenching losses and hitless games were always made better by Mom’s baked goodies. We found solace by getting lost in the moment over nine innings. When the final out was recorded and we had to return to reality and the challenges that “growing up” presented, we could confront them together.
No matter what we were up to or how many hours we were each working at our summer jobs, my friends and I found time to meet up at our field of dreams and play.
Yet little did we realize the impact that a simple game had on our lives. During those afternoons, a group of childhood buddies held no grudges or let any disagreement get in the way of a backyard ritual. Each inning, a fraternal bond grew closer. With every base hit, strikeout, and curveball, a group of friends became the brothers I never had.
After all those summers, I’ve come to accept a hypothetical phenomenon as fact: sports have an uncanny ability to bring people together.
It’s a power that has exposed itself time and time again, as a game’s meaning becomes much more than hits or touchdowns or goals.
New Yorkers might not remember how many runs the Mets beat Atlanta by on Sept. 21, 2001, but they can recall how Mike Piazza helped a reeling community share a moment of adulation with a game-winning home run in the city’s first professional sporting event after 9/11. Just last week, a Bruins game in TD Garden meant more than slapshots and hits against the boards—it catalyzed a 20,000-person performance of a heartfelt national anthem no Boston sports fan will soon forget.
And this city’s most legendary race vows to come back next year bigger and better than ever as an embodiment of human resiliency. Think of it—hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets to cheer at the top of their lungs for strangers they might never meet but whose determination they admire.
Maybe the unifying gravitas of once-in-a-lifetime athletic events such as these—ones through which the human spirit manifests itself—aren’t frequently felt at routine athletic events on college campuses such as ours, but think about it. Where else would thousands of students place their trust in a legendary head coach named “Jerry” above all other than at a Boston College hockey game in Conte Forum? Regardless of how many losses have been suffered on the field at Alumni Stadium over the last couple of years, can you think of any other event that brings nearly an entire student body together at one place and one time?
Don’t let the sentimental rhetoric fool you—no athlete likes to lose, and no diehard fan has an easy time rooting for a struggling team. Maybe it’s true that there’s “no substitute for victory” as American Gen. Douglas MacArthur once said, but sports can be much more than just wins and losses. Numbers alone don’t bring a city or a campus together.
People and the experience they share do.
Have a great summer, and thanks for a great semester. For now, you can find me on the wiffleball field.