In praise of a good walk

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sure it was raining this morning. Not hard, though.

But I slipped on my Gore-Tex jacket over a sweatshirt and headed for Foster Park.

Yes, it’s spring – early April. Still, if the temperature dipped much lower, I might have found patches of ice on my way to the park. No problem with ice. I would have attached spikes to my running shoes.

In truth, I’m done with jogging. Not only the stress fracture on my left heel. Walking briskly doesn’t bother that. Besides, my balance isn’t so good that I can be sure that I won’t risk a fall. A broken whatever from a fall and I might just be done for.

So I walk. Safer. And I’m more apt to take note of how the woods that line the Maumee River have recently come to life. The trees are starting to bud out like an artist who has just started to sketch background to his canvas.

The sparrows and newly arrived robins greeted me as if they’d been waiting for hours to say “hello.”

Today I was early enough that I only met one other walker. From him, I got a gesture that I took for a greeting. Some people just don’t get fully awake until late morning, if then.

Of course, I’m never completely alone on my four-mile walks. In an earlier incarnation, I taught literature in high school and college. Through the works of the greats, I join other dedicated walkers such as William Wordsworth and Franz Kafka. Yes, I include Thoreau and Dickens, who thought it nothing to cover 30-miles a day. Virginia Woolf was another committed walker.

I guess the example of such luminaries sufficed for Apple’s creator Steve Jobs. He conducted staff meetings on long walks. Early in the day, I’m usually by myself, although my wife Toni sometimes joins me. Mid-morning I might be greeted by “the guys,” a group of black friends.

A good walk in the park is their ritual, too.

I’m sure my daily routine keeps me reasonably slim. But I’m careful about what I eat anyway: only fish, no pork or beef, lots of fruits and vegetables, rarely dessert.

I truly enjoy the daily walk. It’s as relaxing as any other hour and a half of the day. I’m sure the walk helps me sleep well, as well as a 77-year-old male is able.

Best of all, walking allows me leave any worries behind. I’m free to celebrate the wonder of the changing seasons. I’m free to be ever so thankful for my marvelous, caring and creative wife. I’m free to be thankful for our interesting, talented family – every member, including a five-year-old named Mayzi.

Snow or sun, rain or shine, it’s hard to beat a good, long walk.

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Ides of March

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in April 2016

As I recall, the line appears in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

“Beware the ides of March.”

It’s actually about the end of March. But I get the “Beware” part.

Walking in Foster Park this morning reminded me of these lines from the Shakespeare play, one of several I taught to high school students some years ago.

At 8 a.m. or so the sky was overcast, so uniformly grey it looked as if it could commence to pour rain any time.

It wouldn’t have mattered. If it had started to rain before I left the house, I would have just put on my waterproof pants and jacket and headed for the park.

It’s not that I’m such a hardy soul. Walking my four miles-plus every day is my habit. If there’s snow or ice, I’ll strap my spikes on my running shoes.

Dreary is dreary, whether it’s raining to beat the band or just overcast and sprinkling a few drops. You remember then that April is almost upon us. And the May flowers.

The park’s road takes you around the golf course and the clubhouse on the east side. On the west side the road is lined with trees and bushes that lead down to the St. Mary’s River.

I admit the golf course was starting to perk up with mostly warm-weather green grass. So far today, no golfers had dared to start a round. Temperatures remained in the 40s.

The chill wouldn’t have stopped Dad. He had won a few golf tournaments. He scored a 72 on his last round of 18 holes before his cancer kept him house bound.

Somehow, today’s bleak weather had me thinking about him. I found myself glancing first at the still barren trees along my route and then looking at the empty putting greens, a lone flag at each one waving in the chilly breeze.

Yes, today Dad might well have been pulling into the parking lot and getting his golf clubs out of the trunk of his big blue Chevy. If he were with me on this walk, he would have named all the trees we passed.

This morning, I counted more than a dozen squirrels scampering around the trees. I assumed they had already dug up nuts they had buried before the snow fell in early winter.

Somehow, thinking about my golfer father and the bleakness of the still barren trees along my path didn’t make me sad. In fact, my daily hike never fails to perk me up. At the early hour I head for the park it’s a mostly quiet time in the city. I hear traffic pick up across the river but it’s just a friendly kind of hum.

I do confess I miss the daily jogging. It’s not only the stress fracture that developed on my heel a month ago. At 77, I know that I’m prone to trip and fall. Which would put me out of commission for some time. For long walks, not to mention jogging.

I don’t watch much TV, mostly the PBS Nightly News and Masterpiece Theater. I enjoy visiting with friends and family. Most of them live nearby. My wife and I are lucky to be connected to such nice people.

Beyond those relationships, and the true blessing they are to me, I celebrate my freedom to head out daily to the park for my walk. I did notice a cardinal this morning. One of my first this season. I bet he was enjoying the park as much as I did.

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Walk, don’t run

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring

I guess March 1 is as good a day as any to launch one’s new exercise regimen.

I find it hard to give up jogging. Even though my jog probably looks a lot like a faster walk. When it’s your exercise, you’re entitled to call it what you like.

Mine was a jog. I say it was and my word is final, especially at age 77 and grew up as an only child.

No I didn’t stumble and scrape my hands and bang my knee yesterday.

My balance has been in the toilet for years. So my risk of stumbling during a morning jog probably has been higher than other joggers in their seventies.

But I didn’t just switch from jogging one day and fast walking the next. I don’t rely on my hunches or feelings.

I don’t just consult our family doctor or my physical therapist.

I spent years writing editorials for the morning paper. I didn’t just check my personal beliefs or those of the editorial board to craft an opinion.

I researched the issue. It’s a habit I’ve carried into retirement. And what does the research say about jogging vs. fast walking for guys in their 70s?

In a nutshell, the experts I consulted said the walking has about the same health benefits as the jogging. Plus, walking is easier on the joints and you have less risk of a fall.

So today I walked. About four miles, my usual route through Foster Park. Yes, my old body felt the urge to pick up the pace and break into a run. I resisted. I resisted because I knew that the walk gave me as many health benefits as the jog. And it was safer.

Would the switch be as good for other joggers in their 70s? It might well be the case. But too many variables enter into any person’s exercise practice for me to advise my fellow oldsters.

A lot of joggers have made a practice of a daily run for all their adult lives. The exercise has become a part of their identity. For other joggers, the mental health benefits exceed the physical risks.

Finally, most long-term joggers have had their share of injuries. Yet those hurts haven’t prevented them for getting back on the road. (In my case, I even jogged when it was icy in the neighborhood and in the park. I just slipped spikes on my running shoes.)

In the final analysis, everybody needs to find his or her own way to stay physically fit. Every day in the park, I meet others who are walking. And I see a few runners, most much faster than I ever jogged.

Hey, it’s a big park. The trail around the golf course is wide enough to accommodate a lot more people jogging or walking. I believe the daily routine has done me a lot of good. I’m fairly trim and have no serious health problems.

I’m no role model. But I applaud anyone who’ll give a jog or long walk a shot.

For my part, I should see if a fast walk every day keeps me in as good shape as the jog. At 77, I’m not about to fear change.

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Winter be gone!

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sure, traces of snow lined my path this morning. Winter is reluctant to leave.

But the paved trail through Foster Park was clear. Neighborhood streets were clear, as well.

So the morning jog was about as safe as it could be. Despite my balance problems at 77, I felt stable as a 20-year-old. I didn’t trip or stumble once. Now keep in mind that my trail is about four miles, counting the few blocks from my house to the park.

My daily outings must be as cost-effective as anything. No gym membership fee. No hundreds of dollars for a treadmill to place in my study. Then, after the jog through the park, I perform push-ups and sit-ups. No cost there, either.

Of course, I’ve got the expense of a pair of running shoes. A hundred or so bucks. But that’s only an outlay of dollars every few months. I don’t think I’ve spent a dollar on a jogging outfit in years.

In winter, I just put on sweatpants, a jacket and stocking cap. If everybody followed my exercise habits, it would put gyms and sporting
goods stores out of business.

I don’t know if my exercise regimen is keeping me healthy and alive. Dad was physically active throughout his life. He played golf every day in warmer weather after work, walking and not riding a cart.

In high school, he played sports year-round. But he died at age 60. I’ve always assumed that his many years smoking had something to do with his relatively early death.

Mom, meantime, got her exercise playing bridge and gardening. She was ranked a “Master” bridge player and I gather from that classification she was pretty good. Like Dad, she also was a life-long smoker. Unlike him, she lived a long life. She died at 91.

If I reflect on my own habits, I can’t say jog or do push-ups to live longer. Or that I decline red meat at dinner to avoid dying of colon cancer as Dad did.

My jogs and my eating habits just make sense. Most days I feel good. I rarely develop a cold or flu. I’m reasonably active. Besides, the jogging and push-ups, I do the family shopping every few days. And I read. A lot.

One of these days, I might even tackle writing another book. So far, I haven’t thought of a topic or theme that excites me. Lots of authors have written books at age 77 or even older.

I don’t have any advice for people in my age group. I’m lucky that it seems everybody on both sides of our family is doing well. So I don’t worry about them. (I can guarantee that jogging and other exercise takes the edge off worrying.)

I do wish people would do more research about candidates during this election year. Listen to both sides. And listen with an open mind. Electing a new president, Congress and state offices is too important to base a person’s vote on whim or prejudice.

I don’t think I’d like living in a part of the country that’s warm year-round. I’m addicted to the change in seasons. Especially now, as we’re about to mark the unofficial end of winter, I’m ready to celebrate. And get moving.

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New Year’s reflections

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Foster Park in the winter
Foster Park in the winter

I didn’t think it was that cold this morning that most of the other walkers and joggers would stay in bed.

But Foster Park was virtually deserted. The “guys” weren’t out. That’s the group of black friends who walk together and visit every day. Maybe they’ll be out later.

I covered my usual four-plus miles. Dave, my physical therapist, told me I could return to jogging in March.

My wife Toni and I stayed home New Year’s day. Of course, I headed for the park and a vigorous walk first thing. We shared a light dinner in the evening, after the news. Then we watched a modern version of a Sherlock Holmes story on TV. Conan Doyle wouldn’t approve.

This winter, we’ve been lucky. No snow. I say lucky because I lost interest years ago in sledding and skiing. Snow can make my joggings treacherous even though I wear spikes on my running shoes.

The turn in the calendar to another year doesn’t have me trying to think of a couple of resolutions. I concluded some years ago that I probably am about as good as I’m going to get. Anyway, I know that once I return to jogging, my weight will inch back to where my old pants will fit again.

By now, at age 77, I’ve learned to take things one day at a time. Most of the time I’m pretty content. I might join Toni to go to the mall. But I can seldom think of something I need. I do the grocery shopping at Kroger’s every week because I enjoy getting out of the house.

I simply follow Toni’s list for purchases, deviating rarely for something I think she forgot or might like.

With the beginning of a new year, her life has taken on a new turn. Her term as congregational president of our Unitarian congregation has ended. She remains, though, on the church board. For her, I’m pretty sure the change means more time to quilt.

Friends invited us to join them New Year’s Eve. They’re both retired now, Jan from teaching and Steve as vice chancellor at the university. They’re moving to the New Jersey coast to be near one of their kid’s family.

We weren’t the only people who left the party before ringing in the new year. By 11 p.m. I realize I’m pretty much ready for bed and probably not making any sense in conversation with our hosts’ other guests.

Even lacking resolutions, I do look forward to this coming year. Son John is getting married to this really nice woman named Cynthia. (Aren’t we lucky to love in-laws?) Daughter Robyn recently started a new teaching job, Spanish as always. She says she loves her new students.

Within days or a few weeks, Toni and I will start planning our vacations and travel for the coming year. A week at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York? I’ve always said that planning vacation trips is more fun than the actual trip.

For my part, I’m thinking about writing a new book. I’ll try to get to it before the end of January. If not, I have the luxury of not having an editor bugging me to produce copy.

Meantime, I manage to not write about the news. I can’t say the violence appears any greater than when I was commenting every day on international and national events. Like everybody else who follows the news, I find it all distressing and pointless.

At my age, the challenge is to stay as healthy as I’m able. So in the morning I’ll be back in the park, taking note of how high the river has lately become and greeting any friends, regulars on the trail, with a hearty “Happy New Year.”

I promise to do my best to make it one.

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A walk in the woods

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redwoodpecker
I don’t recall ever seeing a red-bellied woodpecker on my daily four-mile hike through Foster Park. But there he was today, between my path and the woods along the river. Seeing that bird drew my attention to others along the way, not only sparrows but also quite a few robins.

I soon forgot about keeping up my usual pace and began wondering what the heck robins were doing this far north in Indiana. I don’t believe I ever noticed robins this late in the season.

If robins have been venturing this far north in the Midwest, this late in the year, what’s the meaning of the ancient expression from these parts in the spring – “first robin”?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have that much interest to conduct a computer search on the subject. My guess is that robins hang around these days until the weather turns much colder.

Until yesterday, it had been unseasonably warm here. Now I don’t necessarily attribute that to global warming, although I’m sure the climate scientists haven’t made up this stuff.

(There’s lots more evidence of global warming than evidence for the existence of God. But that’s for another blog entry.)

But here we are, just days before Christmas, and we’ve yet to see the first snow. Maybe flakes fell during the night. Right now, it’s cloudy enough and cold enough to snow.

What I did notice on my walk through the park this morning – besides the woodpecker- was fewer walkers. Did I miss them because I headed out too early? Or did the cold snap scare them off?

I’m too addicted to this morning walking routine to let cold weather stop me. I’ll go out if it’s zero or even below. Of course, I have clothes for the cold. If there’s a bit of snow or ice on the pavement, I’ll strap my spikes on my shoes.

Now if the snow is five or six inches deep, I’ll shovel the driveway and head for a walk at the mall on the city’s north side. It’s a good thing I usually can walk in the park through the winter. I would really miss the outdoors.

Also, I find exercising at a gym to be too boring to tempt me to join that alternative. In any case, I believe my daily walk, push-ups and other exercises are keeping me fit and alive at age 77. Moreover, my routine does wonders for my mood.

Most of the time, if I’m not downright happy, I’m quite content. I suppose I’m as content as that woodpecker that greeted me in the park this morning.

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Fragile, handle with care

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Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana

When Thurgood Marshall retired as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, reporters wanted to know why he was leaving the bench.

“Well, I’m old and I’m falling apart,” he explained.

I’m always reminded of Marshall’s exchange with reporters when I develop some new ailment or health problem. Slowly but surely, at 76, I too seem to be falling apart. This time it’s Plantar Fascitis in the heel of my left foot.

The other day when I was jogging in Foster Park, the heel got to be so painful I had to call my wife Toni to come with the car to the church parking lot and take me home.

A day later, Dr. Muhler carefully examined my foot and pronounced my diagnosis. He’s probably the smartest family doctor in the city. And I’ve listened to his medically technical explanations for so many years, I’ve probably learned at least an associate’s medical degree.

This time I got an even more authoritative diagnosis than usual. Turns out, a few years ago he also developed Plantar Fascitis. He not only understood my suffering. He knew the sure-fire treatment – including the likely number of days it would take, providing I followed the Rx, before I could jog again in the park.

Dr.Muhler demonstrated exercises and printed out a 2013 four-page report on this diagnosis. The report also featured photographs of the prescribed exercises. Glancing at page one, I learned that the diagnosis occurs most commonly among runners.

I found this interesting. When non-runners advise somebody my age to give up running, they warn about the inevitable knee or hip pain. I have yet to develop either of these ailments. I don’t recall anyone warning about Plantar Fasiitis.

One good piece of news about this condition is that fixing it doesn’t require surgery. Since I was in no shape to fix dinner – Toni is away at a church conference – I invited my son, his fiancee, my daughter, her daughters, one’s boyfriend to join me for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Nice visit.

Today, Toni’s sister Patti stopped by with homemade cookies and offered to bring dinner over this evening. Boy, do I ever feel pampered!

It gets better. Here it is late April when it’s usually chilly outdoors. But today, in northern Indiana, the temperature feels more like mid-May. So where do I park myself with my left heel resting on a bag of frozen green beans? Easy choice. I’m now sitting in a cushioned deck chair on our screened-in back porch. So I’m now looking up our half-acre hill blooming with yellow, white and amber flowers.

Still, I know that before long summer will be here in full force. Some days, say by my birthday in August, it’s likely to be too hot to sit on the back porch. After that, it will be fall. Then we’ll be carting porch furniture to the garden house at the top of the hill and storing cushions in the garage. Then comes winter and I’ll situate myself by the fireplace reading a book.

I love the change of seasons, the predictable rhythm, the variety of tasks, from raking leaves and within weeks shoveling snow. Meantime, for this older person, I know if it’s not another bout with Plantar Fascitis, another ailment will assault in due course.

In those years I taught English, I often came across poems composed by people who might have been about the same age I am now: “Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be,” and “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Well, I usually don’t take the advice of old poets. As a rule, I suppose I handle aging the way most people do. I go to the doctor when something isn’t working right. Whatever the pain or discomfort, I try not to complain too much.

So I try not to make a big deal out of everything. But I’ll deal as best I can as things come along. To be sure, aging has its challenges. I’d have to say that for me, so far, the blessings outdistance the challenges. Yes, by quite a long way.

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The M.D. in me

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love-doctor-mdI really have no business telling other people what to eat, what not to eat and how much to exercise.

Friends and family seem to agree. Not wife, not daughter, not son, not granddaughters and not in-laws ever ask my advice about diet or exercise. I’m not always sure what that means. Are they weary of hearing advice from a long retired editorial writer? Or do they just prefer not to be told what they already know?

Frankly, it’s just as well. After all, anybody can get the latest medical research online. Just type in your medical or health question and within seconds you’ll have a bunch of answers. I’ve used the computer for just such research dozens of times, writing on some health or medical issue for the paper and since retirement.

Backing all that up, I subscribe to half a dozen newsletters from major medical institutions. In fact, I received three such newsletters in the mail today. So in the newsletter from Mayo Clinic, I read about controlling diabetes, surviving cancer and preparing for surgery. At the moment, I’m not facing any of these issues. But if I do, I’ll be better off than if I hadn’t read the articles.

The latest Johns Hopkins newsletter gives you the best research on statins, benefits and risks. It also offers a reminder about reducing salt in one’s diet. If you needed to hear it again, you’re better off healthwise skipping red meat. Then the Johns Hopkins folk give you strategies to combat excess weight. Cutting out soft drinks, the killer to any diet, is one strategy.

On a related note, when we once traveled in Canada, I found – without any empirical research – that I could tell which tour group was from the United States. I often asked. The Americans always appeared more overweight than the European and Asian tourists.

Sometimes, the medical letters can overturn long-held beliefs about health. The Harvard Health Letter reports that conventional wisdom that egg yolks raises your cholesterol is wrong. So go ahead and enjoy a thoroughly cooked egg – one a day. Meantime, the Harvard letter says don’t think drinking red wine will prevent a heart attack or stroke. Research on mice shows benefits, not for people. You can safely switch to white wine or beer now if you prefer.

The Harvard doctors also remind us to get our flu shot and maybe a shot to protect against shingles and pneumonia. Of course, remember to apply 30 plus rated sunscreen before you head out for a jog or long walk. After 10 a.m. for sure. Nationwide, skin cancer claims more than 9,000 deaths a year.

Icahn’s School of Medicine at Mount Sinai provides insights in its newsletter on kidney stones and takes a shot at Alzheimer’s, although there’s still no way to prevent this mind-robbing disease, much less cure it. Researchers, though, keep at the challenge.

I find all such newsletters interesting. Sometimes, such as with the red wine, I might modify my diet or my exercise regimen.

Often, you don’t need to read a newsletter from a prestigious medical school to improve your health. I once wrote an essay for the paper on my own experience losing weight. I simply didn’t clean my plate at dinner. I lost, as I recall, 10 pounds. Some weeks later, I saw a cousin visiting from North Carolina. She said her dad had sent her a copy of that essay and the advice helped her slim down.

I take my hat off to anyone who is seriously trying to stay in good health. I see men and women jogging or walking in the nearby Foster Park. They’re likely to live longer and with less disease than their sedentary friends and relatives. Take it from the kids at the park’s ball diamonds. They’re getting a good start on lifelong health, racking up hits or striking out. It just feels darn good to get moving.

Next to being kind to everyone, nothing beats good health.

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Field of dreams

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2012 Live Arm Champs - Dick's in Foster Park
2012 Live Arm Champs – Dick’s in Foster Park

When I jogged past the Foster Park ball fields yesterday, I guessed it would be too wet for the kids to play today.

Sure enough this morning, one of the Wildcat League coaches was standing on the corner to give the word to the parents driving by. No ball today. I imagine he was letting the mom or dad know that the coaches would have the diamond ready tomorrow, July 4.

I often stop at one of the three fields during my morning run to watch the kids. I love to hear the “batter, batter, batter” chatter from the infield as some tyke with a helmet as big as he is steps to the plate. I marvel at how quickly even kids of eight or nine pick up the routines of America’s pastime. They pound a fist their gloves. They search the sky for the pop ball just past second base as the hitter dashes for first. Are they born just knowing which direction to run or what it means to tap a base-runner with the ball?

In Little League, in the late 1940s, I was the pitcher for the Schatz Motors Little League team in Defiance, Ohio. Larry Pelok was my catcher, who later would go on to be a surgeon in Detroit.

A few years ago, a guy had never met came up to me at the Defiance, Ohio, public library. I was signing the memoir of my years as a journalist for the Fort Wayne, Indiana, paper. This stranger wanted to swap my book for a black-bound volume. The man’s dad had been a Little League organizer when I was a kid. He had compiled newspaper clippings that recorded the stats of each ball game over several years.

I gladly made the swap. And what a treat it was to read the record of my sports career. To my amazement, the record shows, I pitched a few winning games. That easily beat my later career. As a teenager, I pitched for one of the high schools I attended. It was a role noteworthy only for my habit of throwing the ball over the backstop.

When my son John played Little League in Fort Wayne, I was one of the coaches. One year we were assigned to the Pizza King team. Another year it was the Barber Shop team. That bunch of kids went the season undefeated. I imagine John recalls more than I do about those happy summers. But I do look back with pride at being a part of such an important time in his childhood and that of his teammates.

We are a such a country of team sports. In school, we choose up sides to play Red Rover and run relay foot races. When I was in first grade one fall, the neighborhood guys divided into teams for a scrimmage with the football. No helmets, no padding. (That’s how neighbor and best friend Davy Morehouse ended up with a broken collar bone.)

We can learn so much in sports about getting along with others. We learn about playing by the rules or get yelled at when we get caught trying to cheat. When our games are organized such as in Little League or Wildcat, we accept the decisions of the umpire – the judge – even when we think he or she is wrong.

“It was a strike,” we’re just sure. “He was out,” we’ll believe the rest of the week. No, the judge’s decision stands. No wonder that in senior government class studying the federal courts seems so familiar.

This workshop in democracy runs all year. Every American takes his or her turn one time or another at the game. It’s there we can acquire the values of democracy. It’s there we can
look past differences in background, in ethnicity, in race and gender. It’s in sports, organized or not, we learn about winning. And, just as important, we learn about losing.

So these days I find it hard not to stop and watch the kids at the ball fields. A few of them likely will end up playing ball in high school or college. Then there’s that rare player who will turn pro someday. It’s just hard to say what will become of a nine-year-old third baseman.

But every child who plays will be a better person and, I trust, a better American.

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