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May '10 31

Old World Pastime – Long-Distance Running and Baseball

Old World Pastime Comments Off on Old World Pastime – Long-Distance Running and Baseball


Old World Pastime

John Miller, who is playing and coaching for the Brussels Kangaroos in the Belgian 2nd Division and is a reporter for a big American newspaper, is now also the Little League Commissioner for Belgium. He is also back chronicling the 2010 season in his “Old World Pastime” column on Mister-Baseball.com for a third straight year.

It’s been a good few days for this weekend warrior, although not for his knees. After playing a pleasant pick-up slow-pitch softball game on Friday night with an expat crowd, he caught eight innings and pitched one on Saturday, and then ran a half-marathon on Sunday.

Slow-pitch softball is an underappreciated pleasure in Europe, which is odd because it takes less time to organize, and is faster and safer than hardball. I play a couple games a year and always have a blast.

It’s a rare opportunity, especially on the sure-bounce turf field we use in Brussels, to play a fun position like shortstop without having to worry about making that long throw. It’s also easier. You don’t go home without at least a couple hits.

I think the problem in Europe is that casual softball depends on finding a couple dozen folks in one place with a common baseline level of baseball/softball experience. Most communities and towns only have a 10 to 15 of those people, and they’re pouring all their energies into organizing hardball. That’s my theory, at least.

My Kangaroos lost 15-7 to the Eagles on Saturday. Sloppy defense, and a few too many split-the-middle heaters.

One nice thing about the one-game-per-weekend schedule of the second division is that it preserves the knees, to some extent. I’ve been catching since I was nine years old, 23 years in all behind the dish. I’ve had the odd nagging pain but never a serious injury, a blessing complemented, I believe, by cycling almost every day, and always taking the stairs.

I go for a short run once every few weeks, and for a very long run once every few years.

On Sunday, I participated in the Brussels 20 Kilometers, an institution in this city that attracts 30,000 runners. It’s a refreshingly democratic event, for men and women, young and old. Residents line the course and cheer on the sweating masses.

I’d run the thing four times before, so I have a reasonable idea of how to pace myself. The first 10 kilometers are relatively easy. You’re surrounded by thousands on the run, a steady wave. The last half hurts.

This year was the most painful of my five turns. My knees ached from about the third kilometer. But I’m 32 years old, and I think that makes a difference. More than ever before, I was able to separate my mind from the physical pain. I had decided that I would run the whole race, and so I did.

So what does this have to do with baseball?

I have long struggled with staying within myself, with getting too excited by success and too frustrated by defeat. But you’re never too old to learn, and I can feel a change coming on. In baseball and running, all you can do is play your game – dance your dance, if you will — and accept the result in peace.

I finished the 20K in two hours and eleven minutes, in about 18,000th place. That’s half an hour slower than my best time, at age 17. But I was not disappointed. I had danced my dance, and that’s what counts.

How else is baseball like long-distance running? Tell, at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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