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The Virtues of Outfield

The Virtues of Outfield

                    By Will Johnson

11825603_528985197253159_4785992454695724644_n-2Oh, 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.


Two Dads and One Ideal

By Evan Mabry

I see my biological father leaving my apartment and my stepfather moving in on the same night. I don’t really think my mom would allow the departure of one and arrival of the other in one night. Yet visually my mind can’t nail down the moments when I was in between dads. It blurs into one night. As long as I can remember, there was one dad who was present enough to make the absence of the other notable. I am thankful that they both provide me with a powerful sense of right and wrong, which greatly influences the way I live today.

By seven, playing basketball with my biological dad was just a fond memory. My new dad loved hockey and soccer—two sports I spent years trying to love as well. Today, I’ve returned to basketball —something I owe to my biological father and perhaps one of the few things we still have in common, besides that everyone says we look alike.

Movement was the defining characteristic of my biological father’s life for a long time after he left my mother. He moved non-stop from apartment to apartment throughout the city, as if he were a plane on radar. For weeks at a time, my father would be living in his friend’s apartment or sleeping on someone’s couch.  Comfort never found him. Stability evaded him as well. He was also still searching for financial well being. He came close to stability by eventually returning home to Long Beach, California to live with his parents.

My life with my stepfather and mother has also been one of movement, only with a totally different perspective. Our movement provided my motto for life: never get too comfortable since a new adventure always awaits.

I was 10 when we moved to Milan, a city rich with adventures for me from the new language to learn and a sport to love. Soccer became my branch to new friends. I did not need language proficiency to kick the ball. I joined a traveling soccer team. When I turned 12, I was fluent in Italian. Yet it was time for a new adventure: Miami. In Florida, basketball replaced soccer as my favorite sport.

Starting in New York and moving to Philadelphia, Long Island, Italy, Miami and ultimately returning to New York in Tenth Grade was a circle of lessons: some learned successfully and some still to be learned. Through all those addresses and area codes, my stepfathers’ number one priority was responsibility to family: food on our table, shirts on our backs, and a roof over our heads. Responsibility was the rule of his life. I took his example to the basketball courts of Miami and back to New York when I was 16. For years, I translated his model of responsibility largely to sports and saw my commitment to any team–soccer or basketball–as an act of responsibility. Anything less was treason. Eventually I saw society as a web strewn together by successes and failures that are tied to responsibility. Travelling sensitized me to see the persistence of problems such as a lack of universal health care or lack of clean water in some African nations as examples of global irresponsibility.

My sense of responsibility inspires my career choice. I love sports and dreamed of becoming an NBA star for years. Now I seek a career in sports management to take responsibility for issues related to my passion–sports. I dream of launching a campaign to promote the sale of healthy foods at sporting events. Unhealthy fast foods that would make Michelle Obama cringe are the norm at the games I love to attend. It is quite a mismatch:  athletes whose jobs are to keep their bodies in supreme condition playing before fans who are eating their ways to heart attacks. And what about the financial health of those heroes on the courts and fields? Is it responsible for athletes to make news for graduating to poverty after their years of heroic status on the fields and courts?  My career in sports management would address those questions. Ambitious? Yes and I have the model of my stepfather to thank for setting my goals high. I also thank my biological father as well. His negatives provided the lens for me to value the positives of my stepfather. Without my biological father, I may have considered the responsibility of my stepfather as the mere norm–not something that requires sacrifice. My father’s shortcomings contrasted with my stepfather’s successes, shedding light on the interconnected ideas of people taking care of the people, whether it is one or a million.

Evan Mabry is a freshman at Indiana University and a 2013 graduate of The Dwight School.