COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The boys from Indiana, my son among them, run out onto a baseball diamond as green and smooth as a pool table.
They’re here to play in a tournament of some of the best 12-year-olds in the United States and Canada. All 104 teams from all over the United States and Canada stay in barracks at Dreams Park, a complex of 22 immaculate ball fields nestled in the hills just outside Cooperstown, home of the Baseball of Fame.
Our squad is a rag-tag one made up of players from around central Indiana — a half-dozen from Martinsville, three (including Ian, my son) from Indianapolis, one from Brownsburg and another from Carmel. They compete as the Martinsville Artesians.
The boys from Indiana came here because of the allure of Cooperstown. They know that Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, last year’s rookies of the year in the National League and American League, respectively, played in this tournament a few years ago. The boys from Indiana want to see how good they are at a game they love.
It’s easy these days to get cynical about baseball, the national pastime. The steroids scandals that plague the game now are just the latest in a long saga of owners, managers, players and hucksters manipulating the game and betraying the fans who love it.
That’s especially true here in Cooperstown, which became the home of the hall of fame because promoters in the early 20th century invented a story about baseball being invented near here by Abner Doubleday in an attempt to deny other countries and cultures their contributions to the evolution of the game. There’s no evidence that Doubleday ever even played baseball, much less invented the game. The foundation for this hall of fame is a lie.
But those who love the game know that part of baseball’s allure is its ability to break one’s heart. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
None of that really matters on this beautiful June morning as the boys from Indiana warm up by throwing back and forth in the outfield. They’re intimidated by the surroundings, the crisp ball fields, the other teams who move around the complex with the precision of military units.
The boys of Indiana got here, because they’re big fish in the small ponds of their local Little Leagues or youth leagues. They’re about to find out just how vast the ocean can be.
Their stories are similar to my son’s. Ian started playing baseball when he was 7 and discovered he loved it. Entire summers would go by in which he could not let a waking hour slip by without having a ball, glove or bat in his hand.
But then summer would end; and school, other sports and different diversions would claim his attention.
Now he, like the other boys from Indiana, is trying to figure out if he wants to find out if he’s good enough to make baseball more than a part-time passion.
First lessons in a quest like that are always hard ones.
When the game starts, the other team, a tough travel squad from south Alabama called the Shoals Sluggers, jumps to a quick 11-0 lead in the first inning.
The first time he’s at bat, Ian faces a pitcher who throws much harder and mixes up his pitches a lot better than my boy is used to. Ian strikes out. He’s not alone in whiffing. The boys from Indiana haven’t seen anything quite like this before.
But then they claw back. Nolan Baker from Martinsville pitches two strong innings in relief.
Nolan Lubovich from Brownsburg cracks a drive off the wall in right center.
And when Ian comes up again, he pounces on a pitch on the outside corner and rifles a shot to right field for a base hit. When he rounds first base, my boy is smiling.
The boys from Indiana lose, 15-3 but play the Alabama squad pretty much even after the first inning.
After the day’s games, the boys talk about how they’re going to have to field more cleanly, hit with more discipline and get used to a game played faster and harder than they’ve seen before.
I ask them if they’re discouraged by the pounding they took and the work they’ll have to do to get ready to compete at a higher level. They shake their heads.
“Hey,” Nolan Baker says, “It’s playing baseball, and that’s pretty good.”
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.