/Whatever you call it, it’s all ball to me

Whatever you call it, it’s all ball to me

By Darren Lum

I value sport for the intangibles and know it has given me immeasurable rewards in my life.
This past week I was shooting photos of team’s four and nine playing a game for the Minden Mixed Slo-Pitch League summer schedule.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the ball diamonds to play or take photos in Minden, located behind the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena.
I admit to a bias for team nine, which is the team led by Brian and Karen Rivard, who I played with for several years before the pandemic-related health measures halted organized in-person events/activities.
Although the team’s roster included players I didn’t recognize from when I played, the same spirit and joy was evident despite the lopsided score, thanks to the formidable hitting and efficient fielding of team four, who are one of the league’s best in the league.

Now, slo-pitch is not what most people would recognize as baseball. Diamond two is not the Rogers Centre, but it is one of two field of dreams for Minden.
There’s no stealing. Pitches (with a grapefruit sized ball) are delivered underhand and strikes are called when a pitch hits the plate or its extended portion behind it on the fly. The outfield includes a “rover” position player who patrols the area between the infield and the outfielders, who typically stand close to the fence when the strategy requires it for heavy hitters the rover can become a fourth outfielders.
However, for all these differences at the core the game possesses the same attributes as baseball.
There is the same satisfaction of squaring up a ball and driving it for a gapper to the outfield, or a no-doubter that clears the fence by a dozen feet, leaving the outfielder with nothing to do but watch the ball sail overhead, or the fulfillment of fielding a liner at the hot corner or picking up a grounder in the hole between second and third and delivering a strike to first base to beat the runner for an out to end the inning.
The game between four and nine was relaxed, light. Players poke fun at each other about plays and actions taken (or more likely not). It’s all done with a lightness and a smile. Sure, teams are looking to win, but for teams like my former team, it’s about getting out and taking in the evening with others looking for an opportunity to not just get outside, but to connect with something that others share … a joy for sport.

I wasn’t playing and, yet, I felt the camaraderie and the engagement between teammates and opponents. A nod here and smirk there. More was said without saying a word. This is the value of sport, of engagement, of what it means to find your group and know what it feels to be seen by others.
When I see ball played I see life. It’s with the families. The couples. The friends. The exchanges. The hope to complete a play. The spirit and connection in failed attempts and in successes, whether it’s the third home run of an inning, which draws the team out for a line of whoops and high-fives, to a rare catch off a liner, which had both teams roar in approval and applaud.
To see the diamonds behind the town’s shiny new jewel may not provoke any response by people walking by, but it’s value is deeper and lasting with those that play there. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.