As the baseball fields across the country are meticulously mowed, raked, and groomed, so are the garden beds turned, amended, and prepared. The solid ‘plap’ of the ball hitting the well-worked pocket of a glove and the sweet tangy scent of a juvenile tomato plant are equal signals of summer. They are both harbingers of the warm season ahead, but more importantly they are prophets of hope. All the mistakes, missteps and missed opportunities of past seasons are erased. There are no losses or strikeouts, no aphids or powdery mildew. The fan possesses the belief that this year will be the one they have been waiting for.
Just as the manager must maneuver his players, as the gardener I must make decisions about my plants. In spring training (garden planning) we both study the roster and line-ups, placing the players according to their unique strengths and characteristics. Pondering the arsenal of warm season crops eventually gives me my opening day roster.
Pitching wins championships, so there I begin. The summer squash clan will be my starting rotation with zucchini in the first spot, followed by yellow crookneck and patty pan. I know they will deliver with consistency day in and day out, becoming the trustworthy anchor that will provide winning harvests. The vining beans and cucumbers fill in the middle relief spots, not too flashy and rarely famed, but ideally they can bridge the gap until my closer sprints with fanfare from the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth inning. Here come the hot peppers, bursting with fiery delivery and unpredictable personality. Filling the role of a zany closer, the peppers pack a powerful punch.
Confident in my pitching staff, I turn to my offensive armory. In the lead off spot my pesky cherry tomatoes produce high yields just as the scrappy slap hitter gets on base any way he can. Eggplants, melons, and winter squash fill in most of the batting order. Basil is my utility player, easily squeezed in to any position on the field and in the line up. Never earning the big bucks, he still plays with heart and perfectly complements the skills of the rest of the team, bruschetta anyone?
In my the clean-up spot in the order, I slot in the highlight-generating, power-hitting outfielder--the hefty heirloom tomato. Looming large on the field, and in the garden bed, this clutch position in the line-up awes the crowds with towering homeruns over the outfield wall or the wooden trellis. The tomato and the player both receive more attention and accolades than their teammates, but the tomato lives up to expectations more often than most of the multi-million dollar power hitters.
When I visit the garden, I carry my bench players with me in the form of a small toolbox, packed full of seeds. They are always ready to be called into action. “Alright,” I say, “listen up, we’ve got 2 on, 2 out, and I need a base hit to score the go ahead run. Pumpkin, you’ll be pinch hitting in the pitcher’s spot. Now get in there and grow!” The crusty veteran is pumpkin waddles up the steps of the dugout, meanders to the on deck circle for a couple lazy practice swings, then saunters into the open patch of soil that is the batter’s box. He digs in and waits until the germination process begins.
As the baseball season is almost a month deep, so is the summer growth. Everything is fresh and promising. Visions of winning the pennant and baskets of bountiful harvests seem inevitable for any fan. But it is a long season, and we are in it for the long haul. Just ahead are the defeats of raccoons, squirrels, pests and diseases. Injuries lurk hidden in routine base running, as earwigs duck beneath the fallen leaf litter, ready to spoil the unblemished season. But more important than the defeats are the sweet tastes of victory: fresh sun-warmed tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, bountiful beans, and succulent squash. So with great anticipation, I await the beautiful moments that come with a new season of the grand game.