Painting a Baseball Story

 If a twelve year old handed you a bat, a ball and a glove and said “Go make magic happen.” what would you do?  Would you walk away, shaking your head?  Would you take that bat and swing for the outfield?  Would you stop for a moment, take a deep breath and tell your baseball story?  “I played when I was a child, I was never very good, but I loved to stand in the sun and catch that ball.”  “Baseball is life.”  “Baseball? My dad took me to games, played a bit of catch with me, but I never really understood it.”

 If I handed you a paint brush and asked you to walk up to the canvas and paint something, like a message to the Northwest Boys, what would you do?  Would you hand it back and walk away?  Would you write your name,’ we are proud of you’, or ‘good job’?  Would you shake while you painted?  Would you go find others to paint messages?  Or, would you stop for a moment, look at the colors on the canvas, and tell me your little league story?

There is not a right answer, but there is an experience here I have to tell you about.  August was defined for many here in Billings by twelve boys who stepped up to the plate and made magic happen.  You may have read the stories, watched the video and looked at the pictures, or maybe you were right in the middle of the story.  But, have you stopped and listened to what it meant to the people on the sideline, the fans, and the non-fans who could not help but say “Wow!”?   I hadn’t and I didn’t expect to either.   All I wanted to do was capture a few of the best wishes, a bit of the cities appreciation for a game well played, on a canvas to be presented to the boys.  So, I handed people paint brushes and stood back.    

The messages are short.  “Good Job!”   “You Rock!”  “You make us proud.” “Beast!”  Some are scribbles, some are the names of the painters, and few can’t be read, but all of them carry the strength of people coming together to celebrate something greater than themselves; a team.

Those messages are what I expected and all I wanted to do was watch as the canvas took on a life of its own, as I knew it would.  I wanted to celebrate a team doing what I wish all teams could do… winning and reveling in the moment.

Instead I came home feeling that the canvas, and I, had been covered in stories.   When I gave people a brush, more often than not they told me how they felt when Ben hit the homer.  They told me how they put life on hold and watched every pitch of the series, even flying to Pennsylvania for the games.  They told me how watching, and thinking about this team, makes them cry…with pure joy.  They said things like “My boy played on Jet’s majors team.” 

More than once old men told me how proud they were.  How they witnessed something they never dreamed they would see, a team, from Billings, Montana in the Little League World Series.  More than once those men, with sunflower seeds in their pockets and wisdom accumulated in gray hair, had to walk away because they were lost in emotion and embarrassed by tear filled eyes. 

One of the boy’s moms told me of her exhaustion.  One cried when she saw a heart painted around her son’s face.  One dad just stood and stared.  He came back later and stared some more.  And then he took a picture, and watched while people painted.  He wouldn’t talk with me; he just sort of smiled when I caught his eye.  He seemed to want to know, in this moment of quiet, that the magic of a baseball season was captured in the words on a canvas. 

When the boys saw the canvas, in the dark, after an eternity spent signing posters, they read the words, they tilted their heads and read some more and they smiled.  They also did something I did not expect, they applauded, because it felt good to be loved in this crazy artistic sort of way and they knew no other way to say thank you to the painters.    

There are not words to say what this summer has meant to these boys, these families, or this city.  Writers try to convey it, but we can’t.  Photographers try to capture it, but they cannot.  Artists will try to capture it, but fail.  What this summer event means is in our hearts, it is in our minds and it is too fresh to be described completely.  Eventually it will define us like tragedy or triumph can define an entire generation “I know exactly where I was when Kennedy was shot.”  “I remember how we all sat around the TV and watched, over and over, when we landed on the moon.” 

The edges of the memory will soften.  The raw emotion so many feel right now will fall away, replaced by the routine of life.  But there is not one of us who won’t come back to a memory of this time, to a feeling that in some way we were part of a team, a wondrous glorious team of people who cheered, cried, laughed and stood silent when a twelve year old stepped up to the plate and made magic happen.  

Copyright 2011 Karen Grosz and Canvas Creek Team Building