A family baseball tour in a league of its own

A family baseball tour in a league of its own

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“Take me out to the ballpark” was the theme for all of last week, as I took my youngest grandchild on what has become a family tradition. Traditions can be great fun, and this one started when my first grandchild was 11 years old, which is to say about nine years ago. I signed us up then for the Elderhostel intergenerational touring program. Elderhostel, a not-for-profit tour company with an educational bent, that has since changed its name to Road Scholar, began offering specialized programs of usually one week’s duration for a grandparent accompanied by a grandchild in addition to their many other tours. That sounded like a good way to get to know my grandchild without his parents and sibling present, even as we might both learn something new, and we attended the NASA offering in Houston. The experience was totally satisfying and the stage was set for the remaining grandchildren, hence the trip last week.

Now to go on this particular tour, called Baseball: From Little League to the Hall of Fame With Your Grandchild, it helps if you like baseball — a lot — which I do, because it’s pretty much total immersion. We drove to Lock Haven University, the program provider, which is located in rural western Pennsylvania. That was the starting point, and when we arrived we discovered that there were eight boys and 10 grandparents enrolled in the program. The asymmetry was due to the fact that both grandparents accompanied a couple of the children. The families came from a broad geographic cross section of the country: California, Wisconsin, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida were represented, as well as another Long Island family from Port Jefferson.

The grandchildren started with a rigorous baseball clinic led by the Lock Haven baseball coach, and over the ensuing days the grandparents and grandchildren came to enjoy each other. Although the ages of the children ranged from 10 to 14, and their heights were dramatically different, the coach was readily able to integrate them into a display of fielding, throwing and hitting. The kids proved to be already accomplished, and the grandparents — who were lined up on benches in the shade of the dugout like birds on a wire — had much to cheer.

As you would imagine, we saw a number of baseball games, from major league play to the minors, to Little League. We were given an insider tour of the new and beautiful Phillies ballpark, then watched as the home team beat the Toronto Blue Jays, a particularly sweet victory for those of us who root for the Yankees since they are in a tight division race with the Toronto team. The Blue Jays loss narrowly kept the Yankees in first place.

We also watched the Reading Fightin Phils, a farm team of the Phillies organization, play the Auburn Doubledays in Reading, Pa.; and, on another night, the Williamsport Crosscutters take on the Auburn team. We even got as far north as Cooperstown, where we spent an afternoon in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. We did all this traveling by bus, leaving our cars behind in Lock Haven. The hours in the bus were made more palatable by the beauty of the countryside, largely undeveloped long stretches of lush, green forests alternating with occasional farms, silos and corrals. There were also several movies shown on the bus — with baseball as their unifying theme, of course. I must say, they were good ones, including “A League of Their Own” and the Kevin Costner award-winner, “Field of Dreams.”

The tour ended at the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., with grandparents watching play from perches on the steep hills or seated in the shaded partial stadium; and grandchildren sliding down the hills on flattened cardboard boxes in between innings. That evening, Johnny Wilson Sr., a former Negro League baseball player and also member of the Harlem Globetrotters, spoke to us about his experiences in professional sports.

At age 88 he has seen profound changes in sports throughout his career. A trim and elegant man, he dispassionately shared some of the prejudices in his early years that blocked his advancement and undoubtedly broke his heart along the way. But his stories, like our baseball tour, had a happy end.