By Emma Stotz
November 16, 2012
My younger brother and I always gave Dad a “good luck kiss” before each game as kids. It was our tradition. Dad has always been big on tradition, which may explain his thirty-seven year long coaching career at Stanford University. His job as a baseball coach has always been a family ordeal, never neglecting to drag us into a plethora of recruiting dinners, team banquets, games, and even the occasional afternoon practice when Mom wasn’t available to pick us up from school. I would sit there for hours after school watching batting practice, taking in every swing, every dive, and every catch until it was finally time to head home. But the baseball didn’t end there. It came home with us, too. Children often complain when their fathers bring their work home with them. But when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for my dad to bring his work home. There was nothing I loved more than to congregate around the dinner table each night and discuss baseball over a plate of mashed potatoes. All in all, baseball was never considered just his career, but rather, a way of life for all of us within the family.
The baseball diamond has always been my sanctuary; a place where I could run around freely, eat rice krispie treats until my stomach churned, and eaves drop on conversations amongst the adults. Even today, it is the place where I go to focus, clear my head, and ponder some of my most difficult life circumstances. But even as a kid, I understood the field to be my home away from home and the team as a part of my extended family. I looked up to the majority of the boys like brothers. Luckily for me, many of them took on the brotherly role quite actively, helping to enhance my worldly knowledge and ensure that I could hold my own in a group full of boys. They made sure I knew every word to Pearl Jam’s greatest hits, how to spit sunflower seeds like an authentic ball player, and how to play poker by the age of eight. Not many people can say they grew up under the wings of hundreds of brothers, but then again, not many people grew up with a baseball coach for a father.
Growing up, I spent my weekends energetically cheering on the team from our spot on the lawn. When one of our boys stepped up to the plate I’d shout, “Get a hit!” and then fill in their name. “Get a hit, Joe! Get a hit, Flikke! Get a hit, Mike!” The list went on and on until we were out of each inning. Looking back, I’m sure the fans that sat near my family would have gladly paid my mom to buy me a muzzle and shut my obnoxious five-year-old self up; but she knew good and well that my love for the game could not be compromised. I may have only been five years old, but I was a five-year old with a baseball jersey that hardly came off long enough for Mom to wash it.
I’ve never played a game of baseball in my entire life, so I’m not even going to try to fabricate a story portraying how I completely understand the life of a baseball player. If you asked me what it feels like to take my spot on the field in preparation for the first at bat, I’d tell you to ask someone else, someone who could actually provide a valid answer. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how it feels to make that last out of a monumental game, or to slide in to home plate just before the throw to win it all. But, if you asked me how it feels to experience the magic of the game, I could tell you. In fact, I could go on and on. I’ve felt the electricity of a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth, the rush of a strike out to get the team out of a tight jam, and the elation of watching the boys dogpile in the middle of the infield. But, I’m not the only one who has experienced these magnificent moments from an outsider’s perspective. All those moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and girlfriends know exactly what I’m talking about. We’ve all had those nights of sitting in the cold, waiting for our loved one to make an appearance in the game; sometimes even suffering the disappointment of an appearance that is never made. But regardless of the disappointments on and off the field, we come to realize one very important truth. Baseball is a contagious sport; one that everyone feels the magic of.
When it comes to baseball, we each have our own unique story to tell. For some, the story begins in their first game of tee-ball; while for others, it begins in the backyard playing catch with their fathers. But for those of us that have never actually played the game or joined any sort of baseball team, the story begins off the field, perhaps somewhere in the stands. It begins on a cold aluminum set of bleachers with a bag of sunflower seeds, or out in the damp grass on a brisk Friday night. But no matter where the story begins, everyone starts with a common love; be it a love of the game, or a love for someone on the field. For me, it began with a love for my father. However, over the years, that love for my father slowly transpired into a love for the game, itself. Nowadays, I can’t get enough of it. I love coming into work, chatting with the Santa Clara coaching staff each day, and watching the boys practice from the press box (even though Campo has me doing data entry while I watch. We all know how I feel about Scoutware…). Although the coaching staff here at Santa Clara never opened my eyes to the greatness of Pearl Jam, spitting seeds, or a winning hand of Poker, I can honestly say that my preference for Mumford and Sons Pandora radio has been a direct result of working in the office. I’ve learned there is, in fact, a difference between a “baseball player” and a “ball player” (Thanks, Kellen) and that game notes can be fiery, even when read through an email (Coach O’Brien makes me so proud). But in the midst of these subtle life lessons stands one overarching message: The passion for the game never subsides. It’s in our family photos sitting proudly on the mantle at home, on the television screen at night after dinner, and flooding our minds as our heads meet the pillow at night. It’s something we are never fully able to diverge from; but then again, that’s what true love is all about.
Just prior to the start of last season, Coach O’Brien sent out an email that challenged us, as baseball lovers, to fall in love with the game once again. He challenged us to ignite a spark within ourselves and rekindle our burning passion for the game— to have a love affair, so to speak. In building off of Coach O’Brien’s request, I want us all to take some time and ponder where that love affair began for each of us. Was it on the field? In the stands? Who were you with? Were you nervous? Excited? Maybe a combination of the two? When my dad first tried signing me up for little league at the age of six, I cried and pleaded with him until he agreed to not go through with it. Maybe something similar happened to you. Maybe your love affair begins with fear or hesitation or lack of desire. But, wherever your journey begins, it becomes clear that it started with some sort of spark— a spark that should not be forgotten.
We have an exciting 2013 season coming up just around the corner; one that is sure to fuel the fire ignited by your initial spark. I look forward to seeing you all out there in a couple of months! Go Broncos!