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Anticipation holds important life lessons

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Religion columnist

I had almost given the tickets away.

They were a gift from a friend, who couldn’t make the game. After I took them, I thought I had an unavoidable conflict. But the week before, I found out I could go.

“I’m going to make it after all,” I told my friend.

He had given them to me, mostly because he knew my grandson, Eli, was learning to play the game of baseball, and my friend was a “baseball guy” himself.

So, there we were, my grandson, only a few weeks shy of his sixth birthday, and myself, watching the baseball game, balancing our hot dogs and programs in our laps, our ball caps on, his cap pulled low, almost over his eyes.

This was Eli’s first professional baseball game. He’s been watching The Sandlot, at our house, over and over and over, so many times that he’s memorized lines from it, including all the nicknames for Babe Ruth: “The Sultan of Swat, the King of Crash, the Colossus of Clout, The Great Bambino.”

“Make sure he brings his glove,” my oldest son, Dave, reminded me. “You know, like you used to do when you took me to the all those big-league games. There was something about that feeling of anticipation that maybe, just maybe, I might catch a foul ball.”

Dave never did, but he took his glove each time.

I had to coax Eli into taking off his glove to eat his hot dog. The usher, noticing Eli’s glove as we were seated, told him to be ready, in case a ball bounced off the awning behind us. “Sometimes you can catch a ball that way, so watch out, young man,” the usher had said, grinning at Eli in a gentlemanly kind of tease and winking at me at the same time.

I explained the game to Eli as it progressed: why the pitcher tries to strike the batter out, unlike his T-Ball games, where the coach wants the batter to get a hit; what the “count” on the batter means; what a “double play” is; and why the opposing team’s manager was arguing with the umpire.

All the while Eli kept his glove on, his eye on each foul ball, hoping one would come our way. It didn’t.

We tried sitting in other sections of the ballpark, partly to explore, but mainly to see Eli if might catch a ball. Along the way, we happened upon two young ladies who had grabbed a foul ball that had landed close to them. They told their story to Eli, giving him renewed hope.

Of course, like any child his age, his attention span is limited, so he enjoyed the Kids Zone at the ballpark, but as soon as we got off the merry-go-round, he asked, “Any foul balls, PopPop?”

Parents, grandparents, significant others, can’t always make things happen at the snap of their fingers, as much as they would like to believe they can. Children need to understand that, and adults occasionally need to be reminded of it, too.

Baseball is a great way, though not the only one, to experience the lesson of anticipation and patience, in an age when everything seems to be immediate and instant. As Lou Boudreau, who played shortstop for the Cleveland Indians back in the 1940s, once said, “Playing shortstop is 75 to 80 percent anticipation, knowing the hitter and the pitch being thrown.”

Watching, waiting, anticipating, keeping your eye on the batter, or pitcher, or coach –  it’s all part of a life lesson that impinges on the very meaning of faith, and hope, and expectation.

As the author of the New Testament Book of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

No trip to a ballpark is complete without a trip to the team store. Eli picked out a souvenir baseball, with the team’s logo on it. It wasn’t a foul ball fallen from the sky, but he held it with pride.

Maybe he’ll keep it in his room until we get to go another professional ball game, and maybe he’ll bring his glove, in anticipation.

In anticipation of what?

Of all the good that’s out there, somewhere in this world, that may not always be easy to find, but is worth waiting for.