Like most sports, baseball can teach you a lot about life.
One thing it shows you is the arc of a lifetime compressed into a 20-year career. When you study the career of a Major Leaguer, you can see things that might help you during your own 80-year career on the planet.
For several years now I've gone to spring training in Arizona. And each year, the baby-faced rookies look younger (this year they look like 8th graders), and each year the guys who were the wide-eyed innocents just a few seasons ago are now seasoned vets. Their faces have filled out and the creases are deeper. Their eyes are more knowing and their movements more assured. And, needless to say, each year a few team elders from the year before have retired, taking with them the hard-won knowledge from experience, an ability to see the long view of things and a calming, patient influence on others.
But the life-lesson I see in baseball is this: Those fuzzy-faced kids seek out those aging ballplayers and listen to them. They ask questions, pay attention and actually take their advice. They don't treat them like fuddy-duddies. They see them as sages.
Like sponges, the kids soak up the perspective of the older players every chance they get.
And I have wonder: Wouldn't it be nice if life worked that way?
Imagine all the kids in your neighborhood seeking out one of the wise old widowers and sitting around while he told them what he'd learned in life and what he wished he'd done differently.
In baseball, the payoff for doing that is a long, respectable career and the personal satisfaction that you did it right.
Back in 1990, I was at Wrigley Field for the All-Star Game. That year, the American League had a young all-star they called "The Kid" — Ken Griffey Jr. I took a photo of him standing behind the batting cage, smiling at the crowd.
Last year I went to Los Angeles to see the Angels play the Mariners. And there, 20 years later, was Ken Griffey Jr. again — standing behind the batting cage and smiling at the crowd. I took another photo of him there (Griffey retired from the game soon after).
Today, as I hold those two photos up side by side, I see the same guy in each one. But I see a guy who's been through it all. In his 20-year career he's been injured often, he missed a few milestones and probably wishes he could go back and have a "do over" on some things.
But he has had a Hall of Fame career.
He did it right — no steroids, no scandals.
He finished it off just as he started — with a smile.
And I'm betting a good deal of his success had to do with his paying attention to his elders, to his father, the ballplayer Ken Griffey Sr., and dozens of other players whom he sought out, players who took him aside and not only showed him how to hit a slider but showed him what was important both on the field and off.
There's a lesson about paying attention to those who've gone before in the life and career of Ken Griffey Jr.
Too bad it's a lesson that so many young people in the world have yet to learn.