I was waiting for someone in the park the other day and a man and three boys were playing a mini-version of soccer. A toddler wandered over and joined in. She walked under the legs of the man and got the ball and nudged it with her foot. She was intrigued as was I, and so here is Verlyn on the subject of our entrancement with bouncing, tossing, and hitting a ball.
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Published: April 5, 2010
It is practice day at the start of a junior tennis tournament in Southern California. And because it’s a warm Sunday afternoon, the ball is in play all across the region — any ball, on every patch of grass, every field and diamond and pitch. At the clink of an aluminum bat and the convergence of female softball players, two boys under a nearby hoop stop facing off to see how the play turns out. So do some casual soccer players just over the fence. I feel for a moment like an alien, entranced by our fondness for small representations of the spheroid on which we live. How we love to test gravity and admire the trajectory of a spinning orb!
Above all, these are games of interception, games about striking and stopping, meeting and returning, launching a ball or interrupting its decaying orbit with a glove or foot or bat or racquet. And there’s something entrancing, too, in the fields of force — the carefully chalked and painted lines — that seem to govern these games.
Down at the tennis courts there are four juniors on every rectangle, but they’re practicing one on one, each pair keeping to each side. Between the courts, two girls lob a ball back and forth over a bench. Down the sidelines, the young players walk. Their faces haven’t grown into their bodies, or their bodies haven’t grown into their faces. On the court, they clout the ball with an intensity separate from age or size.
I see nearly every word I’ve heard from a tennis coach embodied out there. The forehand leaves only a faint puff of dust lingering in the air. I watch one player whose backhand is a perfect Justine Henin. They are lost in a synchronicity of eye and hand and ball, caught up in an internal calculus that even I can sense when I hit a ground stroke squarely.
Just what this joy of eye and hand and ball should be called is hard to say. But it is ubiquitous here. The other day I stopped at a railroad crossing near dusk. As the train passed, I watched a middle-aged man hitting a tennis ball against the side of a building next to a lumberyard. The asphalt at his feet was cracked and pitted, but he knew the surface, and he knew his game, and it looked as if he could have played all night.