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By Staff | Feb 27, 2009

You wouldn’t know it at first glance, but a couple of recent developments in the news are actually closely related.

First up is word that A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez, aka, the ‘Roid Boy) used steroids to pump up his performance on the field of dreams. Big surprise. Our first hint that he was doping should have been his suddenly bull-like neck and the fact that he was able to swat one out of the park using only a Manhattan phone book – which he then bit in half.

Next is the so-called “Octo-mom,” the woman who recently birthed a litter of kids. It seems she never heard of “eight is enough” and took to heart the “cheaper by the dozen” concept. With 14 children under the age of 8, one hopes that she finally considers her nest to be full.

Here’s how these developments are intimately related: A-Rod simply wanted to play the best baseball he could. Octo-mom obviously wants to field her own baseball team. Heck, she even went so far as to produce some relief pitchers and pinch hitters to fill out her roster.

Baseball is as close as we come to a national religion, which is why folks are so upset about the A-Rod thing. It’s as if he had publicly proclaimed that Santa Claus was invented solely to goad kids into being good and that there’s no such thing as the Easter Bunny.

Why are you smirking? Do you know something about the Easter Bunny that I don’t? Wait! Don’t tell me!

Look at how deeply ingrained baseball jargon has become in our language. Everyone knows what it means if you say you “struck out” or are “batting a thousand.” You need say no more when you state that “it came out of left field” or mention that your last date ended abruptly when you were “cut off at second base.”

Baseball is more than just a game; it’s a tradition that’s handed down from parent to child. Nearly nothing elicits more pleasure than simply tossing the ol’ horsehide back and forth with your offspring. Nearly nothing elicits more pride than when he or she zaps it back with such force that your gloved hand stings.

Dad, following this time-honored tradition, introduced each of us kids to baseball. Except he didn’t use a baseball, but a softball. And Dad didn’t call it a softball, instead referring to it as a kitten ball.

Regardless of its name, the rules are generally the same. This included tossing it very softly when pitching to the younger kids. He thus played “softball” in every sense of the word. I remember my sense of astonishment when Dad gave us our first softball lesson. We had never seen Dad do anything other than milk cows, carry buckets and pitch manure. It was startling and strange to see him pitching a softball.

And he was surprisingly good. Who knew that our middle-aged dairy farmer father could throw and catch and field with such grace? Why, he must have done all these things before.

He must have had some sort of life before we kids came along. Who knew?

With eight kids in the family, we technically had enough people to field a team if Dad joined in. But that would have left no one to bat, so we improvised.

We did this by taking turns at bat and doing without a catcher, with the granary serving as a backstop. This encouraged the batter to swing at every pitch lest he or she be obliged to trudge back to the granary and retrieve the ball.

There was actually a very good reason for this method.

As a tot, you learn to get out of the way of objects that are rapidly coming at you. Dad had to convince each of us that it was safe for him to toss the ball in such a way that it passed within inches of our noses.

It wasn’t long before we weren’t just swinging defensively and began to take serious swats at the ball. A hit elicited much shouting and excitement as the batter was encouraged to dash to the five-gallon bucket that served as first base.

Perhaps the runner would be cheered into trying for second base, which was a rusty old disc blade.

One thing that stands out in my memory was how Dad adjusted his level of play to suit each kid. Even a child who was barely able to keep the wobbly bat up long enough to meet the ball often wound up scoring a double or a triple or perhaps a homer.

Maybe that’s why folks are so upset about this whole A-Rod mess. Because he lost sight of one of the most important lessons of baseball: it’s not about a single person’s glory. It’s all about a tradition that’s known as the team.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com .

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