Marty Sterrett has the look of a kid in a candy store. Sterrett is an active duty firefighter in Lawrence, but he’s also a lifelong baseball fanatic, a guy who has not only loved but played the game for as long as he can remember. That look on Sterrett’s face is thanks to the new business he’s gotten himself into, something called Sandlot Indy.
The Sandlot Academies are a national franchise offering state-of-the-art facilities for people who want to improve their baseball and softball skills. At Sandlot Indy you can pay $35 and for a half hour find yourself facing the equivalent of a Big League pitcher, who, in addition to throwing a lot of nasty breaking stuff, can freeze you with a 100 mph fastball.
You want to know what it’s like to face Kerry Wood — without, that is, the possibility of getting plunked in the ribs? The closest most of us are likely to come to this boyish fantasy is the batting cage at Sandlot Indy.
Like Marty Sterrett, I got hooked on baseball just after I learned to walk. Most games were played in the daytime then, so the background sound of the daily radio play-by-play was as common a part of the summer soundtrack as someone cutting grass or the spit-spit of a lawn sprinkler.
I spent hours bouncing a tennis ball off the steps in front of my house to practice my fielding. And most days there was an informal game going in a field down the street that began in the morning, broke for lunch and resumed in the afternoon. When my dad got home from work, we’d play catch.
If, in those days, baseball seemed like a bigger deal, maybe that’s because the sports business was smaller. Sports, and baseball in particular, were beloved pastimes, but the games were never considered to be more than games. A great thing about going to a Big League ballpark was that you saw everyone there — from hustlers and touts to bank presidents. The cost of a ticket was easily affordable, good seats were usually available and the players themselves were accessible, willing to sign autographs and even answer fan mail.
On any given day, somebody won, somebody else lost and life went on.
All that’s changed, of course. We’ve turned our games into pseudo-mythic, hyped-up symbols that supposedly impart messages to us about who we are, where we live and what’s worthwhile. In the process we’ve turned athletes into millionaire celebrities and sports franchises into publicly-funded utilities that, ironically, are too costly for most members of the public to actually attend. Living off this spectacle is the media, who often seem to devote more time to the analysis of off-field dealings than to the games themselves.
How out of balance has our sports-mania become? Newspapers across the country are cutting space they used to allocate to arts coverage and laying off writers who wrote about everything from classical music to movies. Sports sections, meanwhile, are all but untouchable and, sometimes (as in the case of a steroids scandal, an institutional implosion à la Indiana University or a star-struck tryst between the likes of the Yankees’ A-Rod and Madonna), reach as far as the front page.
Now sports, like all forms of mythology, has a dark side.
This is too bad because I don’t think sports were ever meant to carry this load. Yes, certain matches and games can reach Olympian levels of high drama. And yes, there are individual athletes who, on occasion, actually affect the outcome of events through a force of will. Memories are made of this.
But, for the most part, sports are about making things simple. They reduce the otherwise dismaying complexities of life to basic terms: like throwing a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball.
So it did my heart good when Marty Sterrett handed over a bat and invited me to make a fool of myself. Suddenly, the daily grind seemed a long way off. “You’ll want to see the 100 mph fastball,” he said with a big kid’s enthusiasm. “Everyone does.”
Sandlot Indy is located at 9220 Harrison Park Court.
Call 317-377-1406 for information or go to www.SandlotIndy.com.