Some of the most beautiful diamonds ever seen...
The diamonds lie side by side, as they have for years.
Fields of green, where children would learn a game that they would hopefully take with them the rest of their lives.
A game taught by their parents who would, over the course of time, release their inner Harvey Kuenn or Walter Alston or Leo Durocher. Sometimes, those moms and dads would display their baseball brilliance. Sometimes, they'd behave worse than the kids they were mentoring.
It all came back during a recent bike ride past Schoetz Park in Hales Corners where the relationship between the country's favorite past time is reaffirmed every spring, where moms and dads and sons and daughters get their heads around baseball.
And so much more.
It brought back memories of a kid who seemed smaller than the new glove he carried out on the diamond, a boy who at first had a hard time focusing on his job in the field while others were at bat, a child fascinated more by the outfield dandelions or the dirt around third base than what was happening at home plate.
There are recollections of evenings where his dad wanted nothing more than to perhaps have a quiet night at home and an early bedtime, but who was always invigorated and enthused once the two started walking to the diamond for BP. The teaching, the coaching, the nurturing, would all pay off as the spring became summer as the son and the rest of the team slowly but surely got better at the game.
There were the nights of great accomplishment, when the son looked like a begoggled Brooks Robinson at third, knocking down balls and spearing line drives with aplomb. There was an amazing outfield catch that ended an All-Star game. There were nights on the mound where the son would help hold a lead or keep the other guys in check. There were hot summer nights behind the dish where the kid learned the game from the best spot on the field, involved in every pitch while toiling in sweaty gear, trudging to the backstop over and over again as his pitcher fought through a night of wildness.
It wasn't all glory. There were oh-fer's and evenings where making contact was a challenge, the occasional error or bad throw. There was the night on the mound when a batter took the boy over the wall--a rare happening at these levels, one that could leave a mark. The son would buckle in and stay solid the rest of the night, learning one of life's best lessons: when down, keep chuckin'.
Cold, damp springs. Blistering hot summers. Fighting to see the ball as the day became night. Wondering if it's "just a sprinkle" or the start of a downpour. Scrambling to the car as a gully washer approached from the west. Ending it all, win or lose, at the local ice cream store to hash over each pitch and hit.
What seemed like a never-ending annual appointment would eventually come to a close as the son was no longer little enough for Little League. High school arrived, and then college. In two weeks the son takes a walk across a stage, one that ends with a handshake and a diploma, one that starts a new chapter: adulthood. Pitching form and batting stances give way to job interviews and finding a place to live.
Yet there's plenty that was learned on those sandlot diamonds that the son takes with him. Perseverance. Commitment. Consistency. Effort. There's more to learn on the sandlot than baseball fundamentals, and more achieved than a victory or a good night at the plate or in the field. There's a dad who was able to instill a love of the game in his son, and an indelible bond that can never be broken, not by age or the arrival of grown-up obligations that can strain friendships and family.
The diamonds sit side by side, as they have for years. It's not a time for a dad to feel bad about what passed or the fact it won't ever come back. It's time to celebrate the fact that others will get to experience what he and his son did all those years, to hope they enjoy even a little of the joy he and his kid took away from those fields and still savor now, even after the games ended and responsibility arrived.
Diamonds never looked so beautiful.