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As kids we mostly lived inside our own heads. We conformed in public because that's what it took to survive. But between the ears we were caterwauling, rebellious dreamers. I'd grab a baseball and go behind the garage and throw 9 innings at the wall, Nolan Ryan firing 100 mph fastballs, occasionally dusting off a batter that got too cute. Gotta teach 'em not to dig in. Peering in to get the signs.....always from the full wind-up because nobody ever reached base on me. I'd be wringing wet when it was over, exhausted from throwing maybe 90 pitches (I only needed 9 non-brush back pitches each inning....all strikes of course), and doubling as Vin Scully, describing my masterpiece to everybody listening on the radio. I was also the crowd noise. There might be a sudden rain delay if I was called in for dinner by my Mom, but these things happen. I was unhittable.
I kept this major league talent well hidden, never even playing little league ball due to crippling anxiety. But what the hell. The gems I threw back there, always with the season on the line somehow, live on in my head, where childhood flexes its muscles sometimes. I miss spots like these. Behind the garage. The front stoop. The driveway. Where anything was possible. Where I could be Nolan Ryan.
Baseball was everywhere when I was a kid. Cable TV was in its infancy....and we had our pick of nightly Yankee (channel 11)/Mets (channel 9)/Phillies (channel 17 and 29)/Braves (something called "TBS"?) games. My Dad would sit on the front stoop on summer nights, nursing a tall Schmidt's, with a game on the radio. Neighbors would casually stroll over for a bit of gossip. We didn't barricade ourselves away as much back then. When the doorbell rang nobody ran and hid. Nobody wore ear buds. We'd spend our Saturday afternoon's with Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek, hoping the game didn't go into extra innings because 4:30pm mass was all the rage then. Monday Night Baseball came long before football stole the idea. Playoff and World Series games were sometimes played in daylight hours, that bullshit 9pm EST start time money grab hadn't taken hold yet. I remember the classic one game playoff between the Yankees and the Red Sox, the infamous "Bucky Fucking Dent" game, actually started on a weekday afternoon under a brilliantly blue New England fall sky. Everybody ran home from school to watch it. Bits and pieces of baseball lore are still in my head. The aforementioned Bucky Fucking Dent. Chambliss hitting that game winner and nearly killing that guy on the base path. Vida Blue and the A's. The Big Red Machine. Fisk willing that ball fair. George Brett's hemorrhoids. That slow roller behind the bag that got by Buckner. That fat pitch from the doomed Donny Moore. Reggie going back to back to back. Billy Martin/Steinbrenner beer commercials. Henry Aaron "sitting on 714". Earl Weaver spinning his cap around to get in a little closer to the umpire. Steve Carlton's baffling silence....and slider. Pete Rose throwing hands with Bud Harrelson. Willie Stargell and Sister Sledge and Tim Raines sliding headfirst so he didn't break the cocaine vial in his back pocket.
As an adult? After the Red Sox and Cubs finally broke through, and we all pretended as long as we could that McGwire/Sosa/Bonds weren't getting jabbed in the ass before every game, there ain't much. Just a blur of homeruns and strikeouts and greased baseballs. I wish I was a kid again. I wish the games were over at 9, and not starting then.
I could really hum that pea back then. Maybe I mentioned this?
Maybe getting older is the problem. Behind that garage there was no cynicism. There were no bullies. No anxiety. There was no peer pressure. And no Tommy John surgeries. You were limited only by the size of your own daydreams. There was never a jam you could not pitch yourself out of. As a kid you saw walls as potential backstops for your fastball. As we grow up they become more ominous. They say "keep out".
Nothing in the history of the universe has ever been engineered more perfectly than the baseball diamond. The dimensions are as precise as the pyramids. Imagine if the base paths were a foot longer, or shorter. Chaos would ensue. No more double plays. No more infield singles. No more need for the deep throw from the hole.
But they were something we got right. Perfectly right.
We need more of this sort of engineering.
We need more caterwauling, rebellious dreamers.
In a bit...