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.


Comments are closed.