When I was in the womb, I’m told, I attended a few Dodger games a Chavez-Ravine. A few years later, a picture of me indicates that someone encouraged me to wear a Yankees shirt. When I was six, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series. Mom and I watched those games in Indiana, and I became not only hooked on the Redbirds but also an immense fan of the game. I played in an organized league of some sort from age five through fifteen. The tail end of my career is not worth discussing, but being on the field during a game was always the highlight of my day.
Throughout my childhood, my friends and I typically got together and played at either the nearby elementary schoolyard or the empty space between my house and my friend Mike’s house. It became a rectangular baseball field—or perhaps, baseball played on a football field. I’ve never measured the lot’s size, but it seems to me that it was about fifty yards of fairly even terrain. Conveniently, there were two bushes placed against each house, which served as our first- and third bases. Home plate was usually signified by an unused glove or extra hat. The pitcher threw north, and batters tried to hit a ball south past the alleyway and over my elderly neighbor Mr. Brines’ fence.
By about the time I was seven and my brother was on the brink of teenage-dom, we were instructed not to use a regular baseball during our games. While we hadn’t broken any windows, we had to use a tennis ball as a substitute. Obviously, this felt inauthentic—that is, until the first one of us connected on a softly tossed pitch and sent that green Penn Number 1 sailing high above the trees several yards beyond Mr. Brines’ fence line. The tops of those trees must have been thirty or forty feet in the air. The summer wind would make them dance left and right, creating a moving target for my black Louisville Slugger aluminum bat.
At ten years old, I stood at the north end over my makeshift home plate and faced one of my best friends, a freckled red-haired kid named Jason. With no helmet on and batting gloves completely unnecessary, I urged him to send one to me that I could launch. Our rules for home run derby allowed ten swings or five outs, whichever came first. Any ball hit that didn’t make it over the garage and beyond the alley was considered an out.
Very distinctly, I can recall squeezing that bat and awaiting the frayed tennis ball. I focused on Jason’s freckled countenance and mimicked the batting stance repertoire of some Major Leaguer, daring Jason to toss it into my wheelhouse—a term our coach had ingrained in our heads during every practice and game that summer. I wanted to hit one out so badly. I shifted my eyes from his pasty grin to the ball he held. I didn’t miss that first pitch and sent a towering ball over those dancing leaves. That afternoon, at ten years old, I felt I conquered summer.