I don't know what drew me to baseball as a child. Perhaps it was a warrior instinct, the visceral act of raising a plastic yellow club and striking with it; perhaps it was that football was harder to play alone. But I think the part that resonated the most with me were the plastic Frisbees, scattered in a lazy square in the yard.
Maybe it's an indication of my personality, but when I close my eyes and imagine playing baseball, I don't see myself on the mound, elevated on that central dais. I don't even think of myself batting. I never did like the tension of having two strikes on me, a single mistake away from embarrassment. Or being a strike away from having two strikes on me, really.
Instead I'm standing on first base, off to the side, waiting for other people to act and propel me forward. There's a certain binary nature to baserunning, a lack of periphery that appeals to me: The only options are forward or backward, courage and tact. The nervous glee of scuttling forward on the starter's mark, the gunshot of a pitch sailing wide and slapping against the wooden backstop. The unconscious, instantaneous puzzle of watching a batted ball and the reaction of the fielders, visualizing the outcome, estimating the appropriate number of bases obtainable. The feeling of being important to the team, worth a fraction of run, having the potential to cross the plate and slam into the chain link fence, arms up, panting.
But my favorite part of baserunning, perhaps all of baseball, were the bases. I was instantly drawn to the idea of safety, of a threatening world that wanted to destroy you and there being a place where you're immune. Like most kids I played tag with bases, built forts, imagined force fields to protect me against other kids' imagined lasers. It's a rest, almost in the musical sense, a moment to breathe, to appreciate having accomplished that most difficult of tasks: reaching safely.
Before I even really understood the rules of the game, I felt this. I thought that once you reached a base, you could stay there forever, wait until you were ready. I liked that idea of baseball. The force out, the idea of being pushed forward, felt foreign and distasteful. It felt like being made to grow up.
Eventually we have to. In Little League you're not allowed to leave the base until the pitch crosses the plate; as you get older leading off, taking risks, is a requirement. Baserunning, once the mindless joyful sprinting of children, transformed into a calculation every bit as risky and demanding as batting, as arms and gloves caught up to legs. The world speeds up, gets difficult. This is the way of things.
Right now, in my back yard, we don't own any Frisbees. When I play baseball with my daughter, she sets the plastic ball on the tee, hits it, and then runs. Except instead of running gleefully to a base, she squeals and charges toward the ball to bring it back to me. She doesn't need bases yet, because she doesn't need safety; there's no such thing as being out, yet. I'm in no hurry to teach her. She'll discover it soon enough.