Baseball and softball are unique sports, loved by many, yet truly understood by very few people.
The intricacies of the games are vast, and it takes years of studying this deceptively slow exercise, whose decisive moments often come unexpectedly after hours of anticipation, to figure out why one team is able to succeed where another can't. Maybe as a result, the people who do understand the game tend to be mildly eccentric, with the ability to see patterns no one else sees and anticipate developments well before they happen.
It is fitting that America's pastime was the inspiration for the GAME project, an unusual undertaking taking place in the middle of this country, that, like the game itself, never ceases to surprise, confound and engage me. It is a project that has occupied almost all of my time and energy these past two summers.
A week from today GAME will celebrate its second season of existence. What began as an idea in the words of GAME's founder Rob Curley to "cover these kids like they're the Kansas City Royals," has become a collaborative effort with a life of its own. A collaborative effort not just among the three people here who spend hours upon hours every week at the ball fields, but something that has occurred between us and the baseball and softball community of Lawrence.
These past two summers have been eye-opening in so many ways that it's difficult to put it into words. I came to Lawrence on a whim from Northern California, intrigued by the prospect of living in a new place and working for a newspaper with a reputation for doing innovative work.
I couldn't help but have some preconceptions about life in Middle America, never having been here, preconceptions that have been replaced by real knowledge and appreciation of where I am, through the sheer force of spending so much time with the people of this town.
In two years, we have had the rare opportunity to experience many of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of life.
My colleague, original GAME writer, photographer and producer, Ellyn Angelotti, was a firsthand witness to tragedy when Lawrence Phenix softball player Krystal Bateson died unexpectedly in June 2004. Ellyn was covering the team at the time and has maintained a relationship with the Bateson family since then. Earlier this summer she visited the Batesons and wrote a story and posted a song that Krystal's father Kenny wrote and played in memory of his daughter to the GAME Web site.
Another colleague of mine, Natalie Flanzer, spent time this year covering the Lawrence Unified Sports League, a local baseball league for children with special needs. In doing this story, Natalie was able to bring the everyday heroism of these parents and kids to the attention of readers. And ultimately, as Natalie discovered through her reporting, it is not a sad story, but an uplifting story of regular people, who, under extraordinary circumstances, rise to the occasion to celebrate and appreciate life.
I was lucky enough to spend a weekend last year with the 10-U Kansas Rebels team that took third place in a national baseball tournament. After miraculously winning four games on Saturday and one game Sunday morning, the Rebels lost a heartbreaking one-run game to the Diamond Dawgs from Bentonville, Ark., just missing the finals.
I admit that weekend was one of the few times I have rooted for a team in a game that I've covered. After spending time with the Rebels players and their families, I couldn't help but want to see their wishes fulfilled, and I was affected when their season ended so abruptly.
But watching the Rebels players, after their tears had dried, start talking about the approaching school year and making plans to hang out in the few weeks that remained of the summer, while most of the adults were still heartbroken from the loss, I suddenly saw the situation in a new light. Children have a natural ability to understand the nature of things that that we can learn a lot from.
The experiences on the ballfields for all of us these last two summers have been, in a word, beautiful. Witnessing little moments of life that might not be "news" in the traditional sense, but are, in many ways, more profound than other things that we might read in the paper.
Ice, the Youth Sports Supervisor at the Lawrence Department of Parks and Recreation who is indirectly responsible for hundreds of special summer memories, shared with me a few weeks ago that on bad days he goes to watch T-ball games at Broken Arrow field and the sight of little kids playing the game for the first time makes him feel better.
And in this, Lee Ice and I, two people whose paths would probably not have crossed were it not for this adventure that we all have embarked on, share a common experience.
Covering little leagues isn't the most glamorous thing. There are times when I've wanted to be somewhere that's not Holcom field on a brutally hot Saturday watching a baseball game. But, there is something sublime about the experience that makes it ultimately more satisfying than many other things that might occupy my afternoon.
And I hope that comes through to the people who visit the Web site and read the print issue of GAME, because they are the ones that are doing the work, organizing and playing the games, and helping to make their town a better and more interesting place.
Just as I struggle to understand baseball and softball, with their layers upon layers of strategy and nuance, I can't say I fully understand what we have done these past two summers. But I can say that it has been a lot of fun and the connections that I have made will remain with me wherever life takes me.
And I suppose there's not really much more you can ask for than that.