Swinging a new bat is a welcomed invitation into a world of possibility.
With no grip on it other than the silky-smooth maple from which it was crafted and with no pine tar or batting gloves nearby, I take a few gentle swings, feeling the balance, noting its weight.
My imagination soars.
Holding the bat, I remember the interview George Brett gave regarding the bat he used to hit the famous Pine Tar Game home run. He talked about the grains on that bat, “It was a seven-grainer…it was a really really hard bat.” I look closely at the grains, first at the ink dot test spot, then along the hitting surface. I count 13. A good bat.
While examining the grains, I remember the stories Martin Schleske wrote about trying to find “wood that sings” when searching for trees from which to craft violins. Though I’ve never heard a maple tree sing, I do know the crack of a bat, the sound Buck O’Neil searched for his entire life and heard three times, is certainly music to a hitter’s ears.
There are two names on this bat. The name centered in the position of prominence is Rueb. Rueb Bats is the company started by former Missouri State slugger and current Grip’N’Rip coach Brock Chaffin, providing quality wood bats throughout southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. The company is named after his dog, and proceeds from the bats are donated to local animal shelters.
The second name, laser engraved on the top of the bat near the end of the barrel, is Mr. Catch 365. Rance Burger, the voice of the GRBL, gave me the nickname my first season. I cannot help but smile when I look at that name and remember the whimsy and joy of the year of playing catch.
Once I place a grip on this bat — unlike George Brett, I’m not a fan of pine tar — the first attempts at actually hitting a baseball will take place with the help of a hitting tee. I’m still working on breaking decades-old bad habits and taking stronger swings in perpetual search of that gap-shot double. In that solitary, weather-dependent hitting session, I’ll feel where the sweet spot is on this bat, the spot that gives me the best chance at making this bat sing. There will be a couple of hits that will be picture perfect, line drives screaming to the back of the net. I’ll try my best to remember those swings. There will also, probably, be multiple times I catch too much tee, resounding with an awkward thwump. I’m still learning. Learning is part of the fun, too.
At some point, given enough time at Fun Acre and Friday morning practice sessions and practices with Grip’N’Rip Baseball friends, this bat will break, probably on an inside fastball or one of Grady Goodwyn’s knuckleballs that I love to hit directly into my left foot. When it breaks, I’ll tape it back together and commission another piece of art from Sophie. The bat will find a home in my personal art gallery.
I’ll then order one or two new Rueb Bats from Brock and savor that new bat feeling of possibility all over again.
This year, I’ll celebrate my 47th trip around the sun. I’m old enough that, every now and then, I actually forget how old I am. How embarrassing. At my age, most guys have exchanged baseball dreams for countless other ambitions — cars and golf clubs and guitars just to name a few. I have dreamed of playing for the KC Royals for as long as I can remember. It’s a good dream, one audacious enough to last me the rest of my life.
I don’t think the Royals have any interest in an almost 47-year-old with minimal baseball skills. I am probably not on their list of top 100,000 players to possibly draft. Maybe I’m in that next tier.
The truth is this — it doesn’t matter if I ever play baseball for the Royals.
The purpose of the dream is to keep me moving, to keep pushing me to go out and try new things, to meet new people and make new friends. The purpose of the dream is to help me truly live my life, to be the best me that I can be.
Good stories happen whenever you dare to truly live your life.
Sometimes, it seems like we are waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to give us permission to chase our dreams, to listen to that oft-ignored inner voice, to take a courageous step of faith into joy and wonder.
Don’t worry about striking out.
Even striking out can be fun, just ask Miguel Cabrera.
Don’t worry about breaking the bat.
A broken bat can still be beautiful.
This played-into-being world is filled with good stories, new stories bearing hope and joy in their wake.