Baseball players have a special place in American history. While the game has waned in popularity, the figures who populated the diamonds dotting the American landscape of the 20th century have a staying power all their own. Perhaps it’s their names, “Ty” Cobb, “Babe” Ruth, “Dizzy” and “Daffy” Dean, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Or maybe it’s the fact that no other sport could touch baseball as a pastime for the majority of the 20th century. Or maybe it’s just because if you could get a bunch of neighborhood kids together with a bat, a ball, and a few gloves, you had the majority of the day planned.
Of course, those were different times. We lived more slowly, read the sports page of the major metropolitan newspapers delivered to our homes, and as kids we chewed stale gum tucked inside packs of cards highlighting the heros and journeymen whose diamond-exploits we followed like a religion.
To say baseball had dropped off in popularity since it’s mid- to late-mid–20th Century hey-day would be an understatement. For almost 50 years now baseball has fought to maintain its relevance and draw among generations for whom waiting is a vice and superstardom trumps teamwork in the name of profit margins.
And yet, while all that may be true, there’s a nostalgia, lingering like the smell of well-oiled leather. There’s something true . . . or that we desperately want to be true …about having a catch, playing on the sandlot, and about our home team, our boys of summer, and the way they represent us. As a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan, I can tell you that the 2022 team’s World Series run drew the city back into the national storyline in the way no other team has…not even the 2017 Superbowl champion Eagles.
Baseball can do that. It has a drama and color no other sport has. I think that’s why I so miss the sports pages of Bill Lyons, the radio reports of Red Barber, and the countless pens for hire whose recountings of games read like comic-book exploits of super-humans. Take this, for instance, from the late Bill Lyons, describing the pitching work of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
I’d forgotten about the beauty of baseball’s stories for sometime until I encountered the work of James Lowe, aka “Coach Ballgame.” I’ve written about James before, but I’ll write about him every chance I get because he represents everything that’s best about sports, but most particularly, everything that’s best about baseball. What’s more, he is a character, he has character, and he teaches character first, baseball second. In a world given to success at any cost, James recognizes that somethings aren’t for sale, like integrity, grit, respect, and determination. Maybe that’s why he speaks so much about Roberto Clemente, whose story off the field is as good as he was on the field.
After all, there’s a reason Major League Baseball has extended James’s contract as “Ambassador” of their “Play Ball” initiative, and it’s more than just getting kids to play.
I’m not saying that baseball is the only “good” sport out there. I’m not saying James Lowe is the only person doing good by coaching what it means to be a good human being on the baseball diamond and in life. But I am saying that there’s Genius here.
Maybe not genius in the Einsteinian sense. I’m talking about Genius as described by Dr. Thomas Armstrong in his book, Awakening Genius in the Classroom:
[Genius] is also linked to the word genial, which means, among other things, “festive,” “conducive to growth,” “enlivening,” and “jovial.”
If you have time to watch Coach Ballgame in action (see video below) you’ll recognize his genius. “Festive,” “Conducive to growth,” Enlivening?” It’s quite clear that Baseball is his joy, and that he helps “give birth” to that joy in youngsters and adults alike.
In one of the most beautiful and insightful essays I’ve ever read, “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings”, the philosopher William James, quoting the author Robert Louis Stevenson, declares that in joy, we recognize “a man’s true life, [that] for which he consents to live.”
James Lowe lives for baseball.
If you don’t buy Armstrong’s definition of Genius or the poetry of Stevenson’s view of life and joy as applied to Coach Ballgame, then you probably don’t watch baseball. But if you buy even a hint of it, it’s quite clear that James Lowe is living his true, authentic life, and through his genius is bringing joy to so many people.
And that is as much poetry in motion as watching Cliff Lee throw a complete game, a Cole Hamels delivery, or Rhys Hoskins send a pitch into the stands.