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What do baseball and gardening have in common?
These two great American pastimes have a certain timelessness to them, a certain constancy—like homemade apple pie—often hard to find elsewhere in our fast-paced, digital media-crazed culture.
But, you might be asking: How are these two great American pastimes really connected?
What does baseball have to do with gardening?
A whole lot, it turns out.
Do you have memories of hanging out with a grandparent or neighbor, listening to the game on the radio while gardening in the summer sun? I would spend hours with my Grandpa Bear in his garden. And it was such a thrill to imagine the stadium with all of the cheering fans coming through the radio.
For us, “boys of summer” really had more than one meaning. Ripe tomatoes, sweet corn on the cob, ball parks, long, lazy days in the heat after walks in the cooler mornings. So much about baseball and gardening stirs memories of an idyllic youth, and a slower, more relaxed way of life.
But these days, I’m finding there are even more connections between these two great American pastimes—gardening and baseball—and have had the opportunity to talk with Phillies great, Brad Lidge, about them.
Just as gardening connects us to the soil, Brad tells me, baseball connects players to the dirt and the grass of the ball park.
Out under the sun, there are rituals scratched and rubbed in the dirt by the pitchers and batters. In ways, these small rituals are similar to how we work the garden compost, grab a handful of soil to enjoy the rich aroma, and scratch in our plots around the greens and veggies.
There’s a connection that forms with the soil. In fact, the pitchers in Major League Baseball are so in-tune with the dirt’s effect on the baseball’s leather, they’ll only use one particular mud from the Delaware River to condition the balls before every game! Baseball players become aficionados of the dirt the same way gardeners do of the soil. They come to know it and touch it with an intimacy and familiarity of passion and joyful hours “at play,” and as we explored in the recent article, “Soil Spirituality,” our connection with soil brings all sorts of mind and body benefits.
These routines calm our minds and bring us a little more into awareness of the present moment.
Brad tells me, “In high school, college, even little league, there is something about raking the dirt around the infield (pitching mound for me) that is cathartic and gratifying—it is our own little Zen garden.”
The Zen-like aspects of baseball rituals and gardening practices extend right into our breathing, our breath work. Ever watch a pitcher on the mound emptying his mind of thoughts to allow the motion of muscle memory to take over? In gardening it’s quite the same process, only in reverse—our repetitive actions of planting and weeding and hoeing create a spaciousness for our minds to calm and connect with the pace of nature. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.”
And there’s an elemental authenticity found in baseball: the wooden bats, the leather gloves and balls rubbed with natural river clay. An authenticity revered by Brad when he says: “I agree with Crash Davis [played by Kevin Costner] in Bull Durham that ‘there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf.'”
There’s an authentic timelessness to both baseball and gardening—as if they both embody a place where time stands still. And has for generations! The rules of baseball, the way the game is played, really hasn’t changed much since its origins in the mid-1800s, which is part of why the greatness of a player like Babe Ruth remains truly awesome through today. And gardening? Those spring, summer, autumn and even winter rhythms my grandpa enjoyed? Very much the same today as well, of course.
And then, there’s stretching!
The stretching of the arms, the legs, the back, the neck. Even the 7th inning “stretch” when all at the ball park join in one great yoga-esque break to work the muscles and enhance the blood flow. Likewise, anybody who’s ever done it knows one can hardly set foot in a garden without stretching!
There’s a constancy found in gardening and baseball that is lacking in many other areas of life. Especially as technologies rapidly transform, and the rules of other sports transmute, baseball and gardening maintain a timelessness that becomes a sort of haven, a sanctuary for so many of us.
And in these sanctuaries, we also discover and cultivate wisdom with applicability—to our whole lives—well beyond the game or the garden. Like when Babe Ruth tells us, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way,” or, “Each strike brings [us] closer to the next home run!”
We are invited to slow down. To feel the sunshine. To enjoy the sounds—whether the crack of the bat or the birdsong. It opens up space and time where we can reflect more—perhaps even deepen our connection with the divine in delight. In simplicity, we find greatness and beauty.
As William Blake so eloquently writes, “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.”
And if we’re so fortunate, we’ll find, as George Bernard Shaw has, “The best place to find God is in the garden. You can dig for him there.”
There’s a wisdom accessible in baseball and gardening that also keeps us humble, and keeps us in good humor. As Yogi Berra puts it: “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”
The authenticity found in baseball and in gardening is increasingly precious in our modern lives. Something worth preserving and cultivating. A celebration of the simple elements, of working together while improving our own selves, and of appreciating the beauty of it all.
And of course, in baseball as in life, they say, all the important things happen at home.
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Authors: Aaron William Perry with Brad Lidge
Editor: Catherine Monkman