THEY PLAYED THE All-Star Game in Denver Tuesday night.
They also played one in Our Park, USA.Two dozen boys - age: a dozen years - gathered on a dusty field in Our Park to play baseball, watched by a handful of spectators, counting parents, little sisters and a couple of dogs.
In Our Park, you can catch a game almost any evening of the week, if your bot-tom has the stamina.
In Our Park, the National Pastime is alive and well.
In Our Park, you inhale a slice of Americana every evening. Sometimes you feel like you're sitting in a Norman Rockwell painting.
In Our Park, there are no crowds. Sometimes there are more horses watching the game than people. They gaze over an adjacent fence, chewing grass and producing waste products while watching the game with the same empty expression you see in algebra class. The horses, that is.
In Our Park, you can get a nice set of callouses on your glutei maximi from sitting on aluminum bleachers, but the spectators are a hardy lot. They freeze for two months, then bake for two weeks.
In Our Park you get to sit under the shade of old maple trees, take in the action and catch up with your neighbors. In Our Park, conversation in the bleachers shifts back and forth from gossip to the game. It goes something like this: "Did you hear about Nancy? Hit it hard, Bud!!! She cut her hair. What just happened? It looks darling on her."
In Our Park players don't arrive at the game in planes and fancy automobiles. They arrive early in minivans driven by Mom. Or on the back of a BMX.
In Our Park, games sometimes have to be stopped momentarily while oblivious mothers push strollers slowly through the outfield, trailed by a parade of equally oblivious children.
In Our Park, players get to receive unsolicited batting tips from Dad as they wait on deck.
In Our Park, the all-dirt infield has more curves and bumps than Cameron Diaz. It helps to know our field before you play on it. You could hide a base runner in the dip along the third-base line. In spring, the infield is mushy and wet. In summer the sun bakes it into concrete. No one can figure this out: the infield seems to grow rocks.
In Our Park, players don't play for money and fame. They play for free. Actually, they don't. They pay to play. If they are lucky enough to "make all-stars," the players gladly pay $40 of their parents' money to cover the cost of uniforms, tournament fees, etc. Plus another $5 for matching socks, if they don't have them. And another $15 or so for post-game treats.
In Our Park, the players line up after every game and shake hands with the other team. Sometimes they spit in their hands first, but we'll let that be our secret.
In Our Park, the players don't head for the showers; they head for the Snack Shack for a root beer, a dog and a box of Skittles. In Our Park, this passes for a post-game spread.
In Our Park, you can tell the veteran parents from the novices. You can measure their years of service in the stands by the caliber of their lingo and their spectating equipment. The vets bring lawn chairs or special sitting rigs for the bleachers. They know how to chatter at the batter. You're a hitter, Bobby! Give it a ride. Keep your nose on the ball! These are people so versed in the game they know what a "hip turn" is. They can explain the infield fly rule.
The novice parents sit quiet and take notes.
In Our Park, the coaches don't coach for money. They coach because they love their kids and/or baseball. In Our Park there are coaches like Coach Gary, a fit thirtysomething guy who loves baseball so much that he spent $100 on a baseball mitt - for himself. His idea of a good time is to take his son to the batting cage. Then he bought one and put it in his back yard.
In Our Park, there are lots of Garys. Guys who coach baseball and then work a side job as an electrician, architect, salesman.
In Our Park, you get to watch the games free, and the Snack Shack sells dogs and burgers for a buck or two. The smell of roasting hot dogs wafting through the park comes at no extra charge.
In Our Park, we have the real Boys of Summer - Kyle, Davey, Chad, Adam, "Willie," Collin, Ian, Derek, Nick, Mark and two guys named Blake.
In Our Park, the games are more interesting than they are in the Bigs. Just try walking past one some time - even if you don't know any of the participants. Can't be done. For one thing, something is always happening and who can say that about the Bigs? In Our Park, the play is good - but not too good. There is, for instance, no such thing as a routine ground ball. In Our Park, you hold your breath a lot.
In Our Park, the encouragement from the bleachers tends to be statements of the obvious. Batters are told "hit the ball," and pitchers to "throw strikes." But nobody can take anything for granted in Our Park.
In Our Park they have the 10-run rule - a nice idea.
The National Pastime might be struggling in the big leagues, but in Our Park the old game thrives and en-dures.