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Law Lessons from Baseball in a Pandemic

by Jay Reeves |

There’s an important Law Lesson to be learned when baseball is played in empty parks, in front of cardboard cutout fans, by players who are not allowed to spit.

It is a lesson – at least for those of us who love the game – about longing and loss, about grieving for something taken away, and about the awful feeling of not knowing when or if it will return.

But mostly it is about the importance of finding joy in each precious moment.  

Please know that I don’t think losing baseball is any way comparable to losing your life, health or job. Not all losses are equal. But even the little ones hurt.

So for solace, as the summer ends and the pennant stretch begins, I remember the golden days when my youngest daughter Mary Ann – with an oversized uniform and her brother’s old glove – brought joy to Durham Bulls ballpark.

The Field of Dreams

This was in the waning hours of the last century, when each afternoon I would bolt from my law office – frantically undoing my necktie and unlacing my wingtips as I sped down Franklin Street – to coach the Marlins in the Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation Youth League.

My son Bo played on the Marlins. And because no other parent wanted the job, I volunteered to coach. Which led seven-year-old Mary Ann – who assumed this was a family affair – to decide she’d join the team as well.

She did so without consulting me first (full disclosure: she rarely consulted me first) and even though she wasn’t on the roster. Plus there were other issues.

“She’s too little,” said one Marlin at our first practice, and this was true – the league was for 9-11 year-olds.

“And she’s a girl,” said another.

Which was also true and, in Mary Ann’s opinion, totally irrelevant.

Angels in the Outfield

So the season began with Mary Ann in our dugout, in full Marlins regalia – cap covering her eyes, jersey falling past her knees – as our official batgirl.

Here I should say that never before in the glorious history of this grand game has there been a retriever of bats more enthusiastic, energetic and enchanting than Mary Ann. She lit up the whole ballfield.

And she turned out to be our Most Valuable Non-player. One look at her bright smile, baggy pants and Beauty and the Beast sequined sneakers, and umpires would melt. Ball and strike calls started going our way. Close plays at the plate were decided in our favor.

And in the Marlins team photo, there is Mary Ann, peeking out from under the bill of her cap and grinning from ear to ear.

Hit Bull, Win Steak

The highlight of that season was a trip to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a celebration of youth baseball.

In a wonderful pre-game ceremony, rec league players poured onto the field to stand beside their Bulls counterparts. My son Bo stood in right field shoulder-to-hip with Bubba Trammell, who would go on to play in the big leagues. And I was too busy snapping photos to notice Mary Ann jogging across the field to the Bulls dugout.

It was only when I heard raucous laughter that I saw what was going on. Mary Ann had taken her usual spot on the top step of the dugout – near a beaming Manager Bill Evers – her jaw set and her eyes shining, a picture of pure joy.

That is Real Which Never Changes
“We don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone.”

Joni Mitchell wrote those words 50 years ago. Yet they ring even truer today.

We have all lost much this year. Some more than others. Things we usually look forward to – going to a ballgame, gathering with friends – are now just memories.

But the real stuff – kindness, courage, truth, love – is still here. It hasn’t changed.

Mary Ann is now a medical student doing her rotations in New Orleans. She tells me about the patients she sees, the sorrow and the loss. But she also tells me stories of grace, compassion and beauty.

She’s all grown-up now. But in many ways – the most important ways, in my book – she is still that amazing young Marlin who radiated such joy. She shows up with her best self. She is happy just being in the game. And it is my great fortune to be her teammate.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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