Opening Day is April 6th this year. Spring Training is in full swing and hope is once again in the air. In other areas of the country, Spring is marked by the first green shoots of new plants or by the return of migrating flocks of birds, by the melting of snow and ice or by the onset of the rainy season. Here in Arizona, we don’t get much in the way of winter weather. It gets cooler and there is more rain during January and February, but by and large, shirtsleeves are the norm year round. For the past twenty-some years, I have marked the season by the return of Baseball.
I have always been a fan of the game. Not a fanatic, mind. For a long while my interest was confined to the occasional attendance of a Big League game and some passing attention to the World Series. I have always loved going to the ballpark and watching a game, any game. But I didn’t follow the stats or watch baseball on television (still don’t, but more because television misses much of what’s truly happening on the field).
Then in 1998 a friend convinced me to get season tickets to the newly enfranchised Arizona Diamondbacks. I rediscovered my love of watching live baseball. That same friend had played professional ball as a younger man (Triple-A minor league for the Oakland A’s), and became my baseball tutor. He taught me how to watch the game. He taught me that much of the most important action wasn’t between the pitcher and the batter but was out on the field, before the ball was even pitched. Observing the disposition of the players, their shifting of positions for each batter and in each situation, was as important as whether the pitch was a ball or a strike. My appreciation of the game and its science deepened and I now see far more than I did before his instruction.
Baseball and surgery have much in common. They are team sports played by individuals. You may be a great hitter or stellar fielder, but one individual can’t win a ballgame alone. Surgeons, no matter how proficient, rely on a team to help care for their patients. Big league baseball demands a high degree of expertise and craftsmanship. Subtle clues tell a batter what the pitcher will throw; fielders rely on intimate knowledge of the hitter’s proclivities and weaknesses to position themselves for each pitch; catchers do more than simply catch what the pitcher delivers. Big league surgery demands a similar degree of intuitive perception combined with technical skill.
Baseball is still a major release for me. The rhythm of the game lends itself to quiet reflection and observation, as well as a chance to cheer your own team and jeer the opponents. For the two or so hours I spent in the stands, I am released from obligations and cares. I have no decisions to make, other than whether to get a hot dog or a brat, and I can watch other professionals pursuing their craft with the same spirit I bring to my own.
So come April 6th, I’ll be in the stands with a dog and a beer, full of renewed hope and quiet enthusiasm. Play Ball!