It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.

Yes, it’s a sentence most frequently quoted from the 2011 movie “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.

But, occasionally, it has some real-life application too.

On Saturday, I was scheduled to cover the Southern Illinois Miners taking on the Evansville Otters at Rent One Park. For the first six innings, Evansville established firm control of the contest, building a 6-0 lead while holding Southern Illinois to a first-inning single.

But everything changed in the seventh, as the Miners scored four runs with nobody out and tied the game at 6 on a two-run single from Phil Butler. Southern Illinois added the eventual game-winning run on a RBI from Gerardo Avila in the eighth for a 7-6 victory.

Baseball still teaches us new things about humanity, compassion, effort and a never-say-die attitude. It has a darker, colder side, one that shows itself all too often, but the general feeling of warmth still exists if you look hard enough for it.

In the years before the dawn of the video game generation, I grew up playing suburb baseball in the neighborhood cul-de-sac. You came home from school, gulped down a rushed dinner and grabbed your bat and ball for a few innings before dark.

It was 1989 and I was 10 years old, a time of life where the existence of adult things like mortgages and jobs failed to enter a child’s mind. Your primary mode of transportation was a bicycle and Saturday morning cartoons were a highlight of the weekend.

A chance conversation with a Texas Rangers scout during Saturday’s game brought those memories flooding back. A guy who had been a scout almost as long as I’ve been alive reminded me that baseball is still a child’s game played by men.

He had left the Chicago Cubs because they had wanted him to do data entry as part of his position, something he hated as he didn’t use computers. He said that baseball is about discipline, about approaching the plate with the knowledge of the type of pitch you want and the aggressiveness to get it.

For 32 years, he watched the game grow and evolve from generation to generation. The Los Angeles Dodgers were World Series champions his first year as a scout in 1981, after a midseason strike that split the regular season into two halves, cost 713 games and an estimated $146 million in player salaries.

The scout lamented that players are too overanalyzed today, subjected to mountains of data that take some of the humanity out of the sport.

I admired him.

A phrase I don’t hear often enough is “Respect the vets,” the folks that defend our freedom and the rights we enjoy. But a veteran isn’t only somebody who fought for the stars and stripes with a gun.

There are people in the sports world, and this country in general, who have given everything they have to the pursuit of a dream. Every day for 15 or 20 years, they got up, tied their shoes and walked out their front door loving what they do.

And as we celebrate our independence today, let’s celebrate our humanity too.

 

Pete Spitler is a sports reporter for The Southern Illinoisan. He can be contacted at 618-351-5073 or pete.spitler@thesouthern.com.

 

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