Fredman: On Plans and Laughter
Learning to accept life’s challenges when they come my way.
This column is featured in the 2020 Commencement special issue.
In one of the more unexpected moments of my life, I found myself on a July afternoon 10 years ago being carried off a youth league baseball field on the shoulders of my joyous teammates, having just made a play that secured my team its final win of the season.
It’s a moment I won’t forget — and one that I often think back on when reflecting on my time at Dartmouth and the future to come.
I was born and raised in St. Louis, where baseball has an almost religious quality to it. Seriously, it’s different from anywhere else. I went to a game at Yankee Stadium once. Most of the crowd didn’t sing along to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” What’s wrong with them?
Anyway, being from St. Louis, I naturally grew up a big baseball fan, never having learned to comprehend how someone else could even dislike the sport I love so much.
Not being much of an athlete, let’s just say I’ve always preferred to be a spectator of baseball. But up until high school, I played the game too. I was never on one of those Little League teams you see on TV — they wouldn’t have given me the time of day. So I stuck to mostly non-competitive leagues, and I’ve got a nice collection of participation trophies collecting dust in my room to show for it.
In my last few years playing baseball, I played in what I would describe as a semi-competitive league. My team, you know, we won some, and we lost some.
Well, mostly lost. But it was at the very end of my second season on the team that my big moment arrived.
Allow me to set the scene. It’s a sweltering hot July afternoon in St. Louis. For those of you who haven’t been to St. Louis in the summer — and I wouldn’t recommend it — it gets pretty humid too. It’s the final inning of the final game of the season. Just three outs to go, and we’re winning by a pretty big score: 9-1, or something like that.
Feeling uncomfortable with so large a lead, my team was determined not to let our opponents miss their chance to score a few runs while the season was still going. Sure enough, our lead started to evaporate. 9-3. 9-4. 9-5. There’s one out, and the bases are loaded. You get the idea.
So there I was — playing shortstop, watching my team make mistake after mistake, and wondering all the while why my great-grandparents ever left Russia, where the heat in the summer couldn’t possibly be this bad.
Our lead had shrunk to about two or three runs when, all of a sudden, the ball was hit right to me — low to the ground, but in the air. Without having to move my feet, I reached down and caught it at my ankles. The runner on second had taken off thinking the ball was hit on the ground, so I calmly ran over to second and tagged the base before he could get back. Double play. Game over.
I remember thinking to myself: “Great, now I can go home and cool off in the air conditioning.” But next thing I knew, my teammates had lifted me up on their shoulders, shouting triumphantly.
To be fair, that was not a difficult task — I weighed about 90 pounds soaking wet back then. Yet I remember being so astonished that a play that had seemed so insignificant and routine to me had made such an impression on those around me. My coach even awarded me the game ball.
That’s how I remember the story, anyway. Much of it is true, but I may have embellished around the edges for effect. What great story doesn’t have a little embellishment here and there?
I hadn’t planned on being a hero that day. In fact, my plan had mainly been to keep my head down and get through it. But you know the old saying: “People plan, and God laughs.”
Well, whether you’re religious or not, I think that’s a pretty good concept to keep in mind.
It certainly has applied to me on many occasions. Dartmouth wasn’t even on my original list of top-choice schools, but I ended up having a wonderful four years in Hanover. I was certain I’d be happiest in a large school in a big city, yet the opposite turned out to be true. I planned on being a government major, but I ended up adding on history as well. I arrived at Dartmouth in the fall of 2016 not knowing a single person, yet I left having made life-long friends — most of whom I didn’t really get to know well until a couple years in.
And what about now? I guess there’s nothing like a pandemic to ruin plans. As I write this, I’m not certain what the future will hold, but that’s OK. Planning ahead is a rational thing to do, but sometimes the world is just too uncertain of a place — with surprises in store for us along the way.
I still have the game ball from that day 10 years ago — it’s been sitting on a dresser in my room ever since. If anything, it reminds me that in baseball and in life, you never know when opportunities will come your way. Most of the time the ball will be hit in another direction, but sometimes it’s hit right to you.
I just hope I’m ready to catch the ball the next time it’s hit my way.
Alex Fredman ’20 is the former executive editor of The Dartmouth.