Most of us will never get the chance to step onto a major league ballfield — let alone play baseball on one — but last week I walked onto the fields at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. All in one day.
Opening day at Big League Dreams in Gilbert allowed the city to show off the sprawling sports complex, complete with the replicas of eight current and former major league ballparks, two indoor facilities for soccer and lacrosse, a children’s playground, two stadium clubs and batting cages.
But it was the batting cages I came for, and I brought my two boys, ages 5 and 7, to show off for them a little bit.
I’ve coached their Little League team in south Scottsdale for the past two years (go, Rivercats!), and this was my chance to show them how to hit scorching line drives like A-Rod, loft booming shots a la Albert Pujols, and exhibit the deft bat control of one of my heroes, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
My own big league dreams ended in my youth when my inability to catch up to fastballs, failure to read breaking balls and overall frustration in the batter’s box led me to take up nonbaseball activities, like piano lessons. But my intense love for the game has never abated — so much so that if I’m driving along and see a beer-league softball game going on in a neighborhood park, I’ll stop and watch.
As we entered Big League Dreams, my boys saw a bounce house in Yankee Stadium, set up for opening day, and they were off like a shot.
“But don’t you guys want to see Daddy hit some baseballs?” I called to their backs as they bolted onto the field. Clearly, at their age, jumping around for a while takes precedence over anything having to do with baseball.
When I was finally able to gather up the boys — I bribed them with a can of soda — we made our way to the batting cages, which have eight machines that pitch baseballs fast, medium or slow, with a slow-pitch softball cage to boot.
Not messing around, I go right for the fast-pitch cage, where a teenager is rocketing line drives all over the place. The pitches look faster to me than the ones I remember taking as a kid, but I’m a grown-up now and surely I can handle it, so I get in line to wait my turn.
As I step into the cage I remember my favorite quote about hitting, from one of the greatest hitters of all time, Pete Rose, who said simply, “See the ball, hit the ball.”
As I let a pitch go by I realized two things: My eyes aren’t what they used to be, and there is no way I’m going to be able to catch up to one of these balls.
I saw about 20 pitches, swinging through most of them as if I were underwater, my boys laughing as I flailed away helplessly, and fouled off a couple more before finally nailing one solid, which, had I been on an actual field, would have been way foul down the first base line.
As I exited the cage, my elder son laughing and saying something about him being able to do better (he could not!), I came to grips with the fact that I’m not a kid anymore. But later, as I watched a slow-pitch softball game at Wrigley Field between guys who are, like me, in their 40s, I realized that that’s what Big League Dreams in Gilbert is all about.
We may not all be kids anymore, but our big league dreams never fade.