INDIANAPOLIS — The opening notes of the national anthem play over the sound system.
The home team baseball players, my son among them, stand at attention in groups of three, their caps at their feet, their hands clasped behind their back. The visiting team stands along the first base line, their caps at their feet, too.
In the stands, the spectators — mostly parents, grandparents, siblings and friends of the players on both teams — stay upright, too. The men doff their ballcaps. Some clasp their hands over their hearts. A few people sing along to the recorded tune.
The music ends. It’s time to play ball.
It’s the opening of baseball sectionals. My son’s northside Indianapolis high school plays a rural school from west central Indiana.
City kids versus farm boys.
One of the fundamental divides in Indiana.
The visitors score two runs in the top of the first inning to grab an early lead. My son’s team can’t answer in the bottom of the first.
The other team’s pitcher is good. He throws hard and has a tricky delivery. When he releases the ball, he does so with a snake-like leg kick that makes it hard for hitters to time when the pitch will cross the plate. He’s also just wild enough that the batters don’t want to dig in.
Our pitcher finds his groove in the second inning. The game settles into a rhythm. Both teams are well-coached. They don’t make mistakes.
It becomes clear that runs, even hits, will be hard to come by. This one will be a dog fight, a hard-fought contest that will go down to the last out.
So, the squads settle into a battle of attrition. Hitters stretch out at-bats and work to run up pitch counts.
As the tension mounts, the parents, grandparents, siblings and friends — all helpless to affect the outcome from the stands — do what they always do in these situations.
Yell at the umpire.
He’s a pitcher’s ump. He’s got a generous outside corner, but it’s equally generous for both pitchers and teams.
That means the fans of the team batting scream protests and those of the team pitching applaud when he makes his calls. No spring chicken, he ignores the noise with aplomb.
Our team claws its way back into the game. We scratch out one run, then another.
The game is tied, 2-2, as the regulation seven innings come to an end.
The teams play on, through an eighth inning, then a ninth.
The crowd grows louder, cheering for their boys, hurling invectives at the umpire.
We live in different places. We may believe different things. We probably don’t vote the same way.
But for the three hours this game is played we want similar things. We want the young men we love to do well.
And win this darn game.
The players rise to the challenge.
Our second baseman, right fielder and center fielder make nifty plays, knocking down or catching hard-hit balls.
Their left fielder records the game’s highlight. One of our hitters pounds the ball to deep left center. The left fielder sprints as the ball starts to sink. He dives, snares the ball, hits the ground hard, his body bouncing twice, and then hops to his feet.
With the ball still in his glove.
Everyone in the crowd applauds.
The 10th inning comes.
Our first hitter, a fleet-footed senior scrapper, drops a surprise bunt. Their third baseman, caught off-guard, overthrows the first baseman. Our runner goes to second.
Another hitter ekes out a walk. Their pitcher hits the next batter.
The bases are loaded in the bottom of the 10th, with only one out.
Our next batter, another senior, fakes a bunt to draw the defense in. Then, he hammers a grasscutter single through the hole between short and third.
The runner crosses the plate.
The teams line up to shake hands.
As we leave, I run into a father from the other team. I tell him they played a great game.
“Your guys did, too,” he says. “We’ll get you next time.”
“Yeah, there’s always next year,” I say.
We smile fathers’ smiles.
Then we walk back to our cars, our homes, our families, our different ways of life.
Just another night in America.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.