Monday, April 2, 2012

If We Listen

I took a few days off last week and fulfilled a long-standing desire to go to the New York Mets Spring Training camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Don’t worry—I’m going to resist the urge to write one of those pseudo-intellectual paeans to baseball.) It couldn’t have been better: three games in three days, great seats, great weather. Just about perfect.

As you might expect, there were lots of fathers there with their kids, carrying around baseballs (and sometimes bats) in hopes of getting an autograph from a favorite player.

But my favorite moment was a reversal of that typical scene.

At Wednesday afternoon’s Mets-Nationals game, there was a family sitting behind me. Mom, Dad, son, grandparents. I was expecting to hear the Dad explaining the game to his son.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, it was the son (maybe 11 or 12 years old) patiently explaining the fine points of the game to his grandparents. From their accents, I’d guess they were immigrants from eastern Europe, and from their comments, it sounded like this was their first baseball game--ever.

The boy did a fine job of explaining what was going on, and his grandparents sounded genuinely interested in learning. It was probably my favorite part of the whole experience.

At one point, when a there was a runner at first base, the grandfather asked why the runner was not standing on the base.

“Well,” the grandson said, “he’s taking a lead.”

“Why does he get to do that?”

“He’s allowed to steal second.”

“Well, that’s not fair,” the grandfather said, with some indignation in his voice.

And it seemed to me, that’s just what I’d expect a kid to say the first time he heard about that little quirk of the game.

I couldn’t help thinking that this was a microcosm of an important part of the American story. This couple had come from Europe, probably many decades ago, and had made their way in the States, made a good life for themselves, raised a family. And while they had not had the time, or maybe the inclination, during all those years to become a fan of the American pastime, their son evidently had, and then in turn his son had become quite knowledgeable about the game at a relatively young age.

And now he was teaching his grandparents.

Just two generations from knowing little or nothing of America and its ways, to an expert in grade school. That’s what immigrants do—when they get the chance. They absorb the American experience, they make it their own.

And, if we listen, they sometimes remind us that what we take for granted, what we think makes sense because we’ve never really thought about it, might be a little strange, or even unfair.

If we listen.

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