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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Old Ballpark

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In the eternal green pastures of my youth there is an old ballpark. Where all games were competitive, every day was Sunday, and there were no rainouts.

 My dad had just finished cutting the grass when I noticed he was painting “Cubs Park” on the front of the corn crib. I ask dad what he was doing, and he replied that he was building a ballpark. I was only ten, but knew we lived out in the boondocks. Long before “The Field of Dreams” my dad believed that if you built a diamond, people would show up to play.

It was the park where at ten years old I was jerked out of the lineup for booting three balls in an inning. With my tear-stained face humiliated by having been jerked out of the lineup, I spent the afternoon glaring at the second baseman.

There was a backstop made of saplings and chicken wire about eight feet wide. It protected the ball from rolling into the dry creek bed that ran parallel to the field. The huge sycamore tree marked the leftfield foul pole. In the leftfield power alley a second dry creek bed marked the home run boundary. On the fly into the creek there was a home run (watch out for the snakes when retrieving the ball). Our ground rules were a little odd when it came to the centerfield to rightfield foul line. The boundary was marked by buried ceramic blocks. Outfielders were allowed to run beyond the boundary but anything that landed or dropped was considered home runs.  Dad made bases out of feed sacks filled with dirt: The field was ready for the games to begin.

It wasn’t long before the field was noticed, and we started playing both slow and fast pitch softball on Sundays. Family, friends, and strangers now stopped to play the game.

When I pass the field today, I often think of those times. I can hear the cheering, cussing, and the sound of the crack of the bat. Nature has reclaimed her field: It is now overgrown with weeds, saplings; the bases are occupied with field mice, rabbits, and snakes. The backstop is gone, no signs of any games ever being played. Now my dad is gone as are most of the older men who played those games.

The summer before my father’s passing we stood where the backstop once had its place, and looked over the field. Neither of us said a word. We just looked at each other and smiled.




Monday, August 19, 2013

A Game of Catch

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In the mystic mists of my mind, baseball diamonds of summers past echo the sounds of long ago. A place where the baseball splits the humid Hoosier air, and voices of young men revel in the heat of summer. The pop of cowhide into leather is an announcement that a game of catch is underway.

Boys tend to remember a game of catch with their fathers, but for me it conjures memories of countless hours tossing a ball back and forth with my brother. Despite our sibling rivalry that exists to this day, I look upon those days with fondness. We were once told that if one of us caught a cold the other would catch it too.

I came to bat against him once with the bases loaded and nobody out. I dug into the batter’s box like the Mighty Casey, and awaited his first pitch. A high heater under my chin sent my backside into the dirt. As I dusted myself off I looked out at the mound – at my brother standing with a huge grin on his face.

In 1980, my brother was shot during an attempted robbery. I rushed home from my base in Germany to the naval hospital in Orlando, Florida where he was stationed. He was in poor shape when I arrived. I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned by his condition. I told him: “Don’t worry - only the good die young.” He started laughing despite the pain and then proceeded to get the nurse to kick me out of the ward.

A couple of weeks later he was out of the hospital recovering at home. My leave was almost up, and he stepped into the living room with both of our gloves, and a ball. We could not toss it far because of his injuries, but I knew everything was going to be fine.

It has been thirty years since our last game of catch. I sometimes close my eyes and hear our barbs at one another as we toss the baseball. As brothers we’re very competitive, but I wouldn’t trade those hours of tossing a baseball that built a bond lasting a lifetime.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Midwinter Night's Dream

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My soul is trapped in a winter's maze. Arctic winds pierce my inner being. My face is glazed by a steady snow. I stare into the window of a summer past…

The heat takes my breath away, and humidity forces the slow trickle of sweat down my back. My hands are wrapped around a familiar bat. This familiar feel of wood bat in my hands... Rather than a strange feel of batting gloves it is a touch unfamiliar to the player of today. Man and bat as one.

My spikes glisten in the afternoon sun as I tap them with my bat. The third base coach, a ghost from my past, flashes the sign. I grin: It is good to see the old coach again. He has been gone now for twenty odd seasons. I acknowledge the sign.

I step into the batter's box, to face my old adversary: the mound. He doesn't smile, he is known to me. He knows my strength and weakness. On many a summer's day he has had my number, but now, I arrive from the future with the knowledge of his game.

Old foe, I know your plan: a hard fastball to knock me off "your" plate. You will then start by moving the ball off the plate by a few inches with each proceeding pitch. I know you, but I have come from my future, to the past.

Your plan is as expected, something I could never see in my youth. The breeze of an object passing close to my elbow, and the snap of the catcher's glove. I wait, my pitch is next, I have imagined this moment a thousand times since I last played this game.

I see the pitch as if it were a basketball being hurled at the plate. The distinct sound of wood crashing into horsehide as it drops in front of the right-fielder. Ballgame!

My teammates congratulate me. My teammates… Many of whom are now shadows in my mind. I am pulled away from the window. It is still snowing, and I am cold. It is time to go in now.