By Will Johnson
Oh, outfield. You are viewed as the most boring position in all of sports. You resemble Cast Away, but moving is forbidden. At least Tom Hanks had his volleyball. All I have is my center fielder, to whom I occasionally flip the bird or vice versa. The boredom makes me deeply philosophical: “With no base, can there be ball?” Everyone makes fun of the one kid in t-ball who sits in the outfield blowing dandelions. The jokesters have never known the struggles of the outfield or the virtues of the position. I do.
When I was six, I imitated Ken Griffey, Jr.’s swing. I joined my siblings and neighbors for home run derby in our own Wrigley Field accented with a brick-and-ivy wall in my yard. Yet, I first had an affair with baseball while I was still married to basketball, my first love. Tendonitis in my Achilles and in both patellar tendons in my knees caused a divorce seven years ago. Maybe you can call me Michael Jordan. I went from basketball to baseball, but I was actually good at baseball and not quite Mike on the court.
I played third, shortstop, second, first––“Hell, put me anywhere, Coach. Just not the outfield. Please.” Of course, Coach Reynolds assigned me to outfield when I was 11. Do not pity me. He created my path to experience a valuable life lesson: the importance of patience. In today’s world of instant gratification, patience is lost on many people in my generation, which makes that quality much more valuable. In the outfield, I stand for seemingly endless hours without the ball coming anywhere near me. When the ball finally comes, however, I am ready to make a play. Playing outfield parallels a pop quiz: you never know when it’s coming, but you always have to be ready.
I felt like I was in outfield at the Chicago Public Library last year. Our teacher gave us a month for the biggest writing assignment I’ve ever had: 10 pages, minimum, with at least 10 sources; instead of procrastinating, I started early. Half of the sources had to be books, and I found a few books on the Treaty of Versailles in my local library. The impatient way would have been to Google a few books to get some passages to footnote. No offense, but I do not play shortstop. I chose to find the books at the larger library downtown. The Political Collapse of Europe. Perfect. Justice and Moral Regeneration: Lessons from the Treaty of Versailles and Versailles and After: 1919-1933. I wove through that maze of a library to find KZ186.2, HC57.K4, D643.A7C9. Ah, yes––the Allies appeased Germany too much. Oh, of course––the treaty was far too harsh on the Germans. I sifted through wads of conflicting information. I made a historiography, briefly summarizing each source. Then I wrote my outline with paragraphs and subparagraphs. I thought I stopped a homerun with a catch when I created my thesis: “The Treaty of Versailles failed because it was poorly designed, compliance was not adequately monitored, and the economic realities of the time were completely misjudged.”
It was just the beginning. I had a paper to write. Writing required patience and dedication––traits derived from baseball; there was no way to get through it in just one sitting.
Outfield is not as actively exciting as the library. I sometimes do boring stuff––inspect the grass to see if the ball could take a bad hop because Hey, I still got a job to do out here. Next, this is arguably my most important job––I check out girls sitting on the opposing team’s side. I’m kidding, relax. Actually, I’m not totally kidding. I try to keep my eye on the batter, which I do pretty well. Yet, outfield gives my mind and my imagination the space to sometimes wander and always grow.
Will Johnson, a graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, is a freshman at Indiana University.