(written for my son long ago when we were separated by distance, not love.)
Oneday, Oliver Howson was playing baseball on the lawn outside his Dad’s apartment. His Dad had just gone upstairs to get a cool drink for the both of them, and Oliver was practicing throwing his baseball up in the air and catching it in his new mit. Suddenly, he heard a voice. A loud gruff old voice which made him immediately look up. Well, he couldn’t believe what he saw. There, in front of him, framed by the glaring sun, was a big man in a baseball outfit.
“That’s pretty good, Oliver,” said the man. “Y’know, when I was your age I practiced catching the ball all the time. The more I practiced, the better I got.”
“Yeah, that’s what my Dad says,” replied Oliver.
“Well, he sounds like a pretty wise sorta guy,” smiled the big man.
“He sure is,” said Oliver, “He’s my Dad!”
“Y’know somethin’, boy?”
Oliver nodded his head.
“I used to play baseball for a livin’.”
Really?” answered Oliver.
“Yep. I played for the Boston Red Sox for a time. Then the New York Yankees. Then the Boston Braves. Didn’t do too bad either. Long time ago, that is. Way before you were born.”
“Wow, that is a long time ago,” said the boy.
“I started out practicing in my small back yard. As I said, I worked on catching the ball in my mit. Then I worked on throwing it fast and mean. I practiced and practiced and practiced until I could throw the ball so fast the batter’d be out before he’d even seen it go past!”
“Then I worked on batting, and I became so good at it I hit 714 home runs!”
Oliver was mighty impressed. “Wow, that’s a lot!”
“Sure is, boy. But you know somethin’? It was fun. I found somethin’ I liked doing and I practiced and practiced until I was really good at it. Y’know, I wasn’t a very fast runner. And I wasn’t a great basketball player. Or, a football player. But, baseball, I loved it the first time I picked up a ball and a bat. That’s the secret to bein’ good at somethin’, boy. Fall in love with it. Then while you’re having fun, and playing it over and over, you get better and better! It worked for me anyway.”
“Thanks, I’ll take your advice…Mr…?
“Ruth. George Ruth. But people call me Babe.”
And with that, the man held out his big hand and shook Oliver’s.
“Would you like me to sign your bat?”
“I sure would, Mr. Ruth.” With that Oliver excitedly fetched it and the big man signed some words on it. Then the Babe looked up at something in the distance and smiled.
“Looks like your father’s back with those drinks for ya.”
Oliver turned his head and saw his Dad coming towards him carrying a couple of glasses of ice cold lemonade.
“Yeah. That’s my Dad alright,” said Oliver. He then turned to smile at Babe Ruth, but he was gone.
“Sorry it took me so long, son,” said Dad, “Hope you haven’t been lonely”.
“Nah Dad. Guess what?!”
“I was practicing catching, when Babe Ruth came over to give me some advice.”
“Yeah, Dad. He was just here! But I thought he was dead.”
Dad looked at Oliver and smiled. But it was a sad kind of smile.
“What’s the matter, Dad?”
“No, son. People like Babe Ruth never die. They live on in the hearts and hopes of people. Well, I just wished I’d have gotten the chance to meet him. Do you realise how lucky you are?”
“What did he say, son?”
“All the things you told me, Dad. Every word. Exactly. All about practicing. And working at what you love doing. He’s pretty smart!”
This time Dad gave a really big smile. Followed by a really big hug.
“You know, son, when I was a boy. Just about your age. My Dad told me a story about Babe Ruth. It was about Babe when he was getting old and it looked like he wouldn’t be playing baseball much longer. And one day, he was sitting on the bench waiting to go out onto the field and bat, when one of his team-mates noticed how tired Babe looked. Really tired. The team-mate said, “Babe, why don’t you go home? We’re going to win this game easy, so you may as well take the day off and get some rest. You’re not as young as you used to be, y’know?”
But Babe just looked at his team-mate, and smiled. “Thanks, Buddy,” he said. “But I ain’t going nowhere but out there. And when I get out there I’m going to be trying as hard as I was in my first game to hit a home run!”
“But why?” said his team-mate. “You’re the great Babe Ruth! You’ve got nothin’ to prove to anybody anymore. You’re in all the history books they’ll ever write about baseball!”
“That’s not the point,” said the Babe. Then his eyes looked out at the distant faces of all the thousands upon thousands of excited people that filled the giant stadium that afternoon.
“Somewhere in that crowd,” continued Babe, “A young boy has come today to see Babe Ruth hit a home-run. And it may be the first and the last time he ever gets to see me. And I’m gonna be doin’ and givin’ everything I can not to disappoint him!”
And that day, Babe Ruth walked out to the plate real slow. He held his bat up into position, looked at the ball in the pitcher’s hand, said a silent prayer, and gave it everything he had. And you know what? He hit a home-run right out of the stadium and a lot of boys went home happy. So did Babe.”
“Oh, I forgot. Babe Ruth signed my bat! Tell me what it says, Dad.”
His father looked at the bat and tears welled in his eyes.
“What is it?”
“It’s a message for us all, son. It says “Don’t let the fear of striking out get in your way.”
Then Dad and Oliver played some baseball. And when Dad threw the ball Oliver hit it as hard as he could and the ball flew right over Dad’s head and into the neighbour’s backyard. That day Oliver Howson felt what it was like to be Babe Ruth.
(c) Frank Howson 2013