Here’s to growing young again....
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My friend Serge Bielanko posted a wonderful essay today about kids and baseball and what it all means to grown-ups like he and me and you. I think you should read it. I think you should support Serge and his writing because his words will kick-start things in your head like they do (and did) in mine....which is what anybody who moves words around a page hopes for, and anybody who gobbles them off a page wants.
Anyway, his essay inspired what follows…..
Baseball remains wondrous only if we still feel like a kid playing it. Anybody who starts adulting out there is bound to fuck things up....to crash and burn and do something stupid and embarrass whatever team he or she is playing for. I want to see the outfielder kneeling down in the grass picking dandelions with his back to the batter. I want to see kids running the bases like they are fleeing bees, not sure when to stop. I want to see the catcher so short that he trips over his own chest protector. I want to see coaches laugh and smile when they have to remind their first baseman that he forgot to put on his glove. I want to see the umpire bend the rules to give the kid as many strikes as he needs to finally hit the ball. I don't want there to be a scoreboard and I want to ask "what inning are we in?" and have everybody around me in the stands laugh and say "I have no idea". I want to see outfields and infielders alike converge on every loose ball like it’s a football fumble and there’s a cash reward for the recovery.
My daughter struck out almost constantly when she played but her coaches and teammates cheered her on always and finally...…...her bat interrupted the ball and she hit a game winning triple and wasn't really sure what had happened and on the way home asked me "did we win?" and this remains my greatest baseball memory to date. There should be a movie made about that at-bat and its aftermath. It would be Shakespearean in scope.
The next season one of her coaches had an epic on-field meltdown over a blown call and his own 12 year old daughter stood on the pitcher's mound sobbing and inconsolable with embarrassment….and that was the last season my daughter ever played baseball. I remember being mortified on the ride home that I too was a grown-up, and that she might lump me into the same category with the guy loudly and profanely belittling the teenage umpire being paid $10 a game over what the coach considered a missed call at home plate. You could almost hear the sucking sound of the fun being dredged off that field. It was over. The coach stopped acting like a kid, and it was over.
But oh man.....it was fun for me while it was fun for her. One time she was playing shortstop and a line drive came her way and she closed her eyes and stuck the glove in the air and the ball stuck there like a barroom dart for the 3rd out and her entire team nearly carried her to the dugout.....and nobody mentioned the other 40 chances she'd had that year that went through her legs or around her glove or that she just couldn't be arsed to go after. I was in the stands pogo-ing up and down like I was at a Clash gig, exchanging high-fives with all the other parents and it's a moment I would like to put in a bottle.
And just thinking about all of this makes me think about my own father, and how baseball brought out the boy in him every time.
I recently found this....something I wrote almost 10 years ago. I wanted to share it here...
I think about my late father a lot. Every few years I re-read Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer”. It makes me smile.
Kahn’s book is in the baseball section of stores. But it’s so much more.
It’s the story of fathers and sons…..of newspapers and newspapermen, of living with staggering gifts when you’re young, and seeing those gifts disappear before you reach middle-age. Thus, it;’s a story of aging, gracefully perhaps, but often flat out against your will.
It was my Dad’s favorite book. The Brooklyn Dodger’s were his favorite team. Pee Wee Reese was his favorite player. As I type these words I’m wearing my vintage Brooklyn cap and my Pee Wee dark gray away jersey. I’m thinking of Ebbets Field and Flatbush Avenue and Billy Cox at third base trapping grounders between his small glove and the dirt, like a man trapping a bug. I’m thinking of Snider desperately trying to hang in there against southpaws. I’m thinking of the peculiar genius of manager Charlie Dressen inspiring his troops in the 8th inning….”keep it close, I’ll think of something”. He often would, Oh but these Dodgers drove Charlie mad some days…”I wish they wuz all Reese’s and Robinson’s” is how he summed it up.
Jackie. The only man who could have done what he did. As much a pioneer as Martin Luther King. Just happened to be the most exciting ballplayer who ever lived. Could beat you with his bat, his glove, his legs, his mouth, or his fists. And he did it all while facing down America’s original sin. Died young. Hair turned white. His burden killed him in the end. But he opened the door, and it can never be closed. He belongs on the side of a mountain.
And Pee Wee. The southerner who grew up with racism ingrained in his DNA. But Pee Wee was a strong man, and strong men could flush out such things with their own common decency. And so one day on the field deep in the south, with Robinson being subjected to the most vile abuse small minds could muster, Pee Wee wanders over to second base and puts his arm around Jackie, his friend. The southern boys went crazy….calling Pee Wee “nigger lover” and worse. But that was that. A turning point. Robinson wasn’t alone anymore.
I don’t think there were 2 baseball men my Dad admired more than Jackie and Pee Wee. And my Dad loved Brooklyn. Talked to me about those afternoons, when for 65 cents you could sit in the grandstand and watch Furillo throw from deep right field to third base……with no bounce. The ball on a line….like a 300 foot fastball. Or Campy hit the ball a mile with that squat, weightlifter’s body that seemed impervious to….well anything. Rex Barney on the mound. He might throw a no hitter and strike out 10 or last 2 innings and walk 6. It was said he pitched like the plate was high and outside. But it was said he could throw as fast as Feller too.
I know why he loved the Dodgers. I know why he loved Kahn’s classic book. My father was the most decent man I knew. He was my Pee Wee. My Jackie.
And I’ll never stop missing him…
They were the “Boys” of summer. Not the “Men” of it.
And I’m not sure what this has to do with what I’m talking about but it’s something.
Fathers and Sons. Fathers and Daughters. And baseball.
Here’s to growing young again.
In a bit…