BY T.F. STERN
This past week I’ve been enjoying a Christmas present from my sister, the history of Baseball, a set of DVDs put together by Ken Burns. Having loved baseball, playing sandlot ball with my friends and practicing in a neighbor’s back yard until the sun went down and we could no longer see the worn-out baseball, a ball we’d salvaged with black cloth tape to hold it together; baseball has been an important part of my life.
Baseball was a means of getting through childhood, a chance to be the greatest ball player in history as long as imagination opened that door to the future. Mike Palermo and I tossed the ball to or at each other for hours on end. We could hear the voice of Mel Allen, as if he were paying attention to our antics, announcing each dive at a sharp grounder, the pivot and transfer of the ball, each impossible toss over to first base. Top Yankee scouts were on hand waiting for a chance to sign us, holding up our uniforms with pin-stripes; that’s how good we were in Mike’s back yard.
In Little League, I played for B and B Sunoco one year, then the next for Pittsburg Plate Glass before my family moved to Houston, Texas. That was the same year the Mets and Colt 45s became expansion teams so it was easy to make Houston my replacement “favorite” team. The Yankees would have to be number two from then on.
Next came high school baseball where I learned that some guys could play the game better and I had to accept that perhaps Cooperstown was only a pipe dream.
I did actually get to be on the high school baseball team for Madison Senior High, their B team; but it was still a chance to play. I’d watch the really good ball players and figured out fairly quickly that openings for the next level up were not in the cards.
I wasn’t a power hitter, not much of a threat unless you counted singles or an occasional double. I threw sidearm to three-quarter overhand which drove coach Ashmore nuts. It didn’t matter to him that my throws were accurate to first base; he said I was hiding the ball, making it more difficult for the first baseman to see.
I was playing Shortstop and threw a ball sidearm style over to first, again. Coach Ashmore shook his head as he said something towards the dirt. He then took the Fungo bat, tossed a ball into the air preparatory to hitting one over my head so that I’d have to go chase it down and made contact with the ball.
Normally such a swing would have launched the ball in a sweeping arc far into left field where I’d have to run to the fence and retrieve it, a reminder not to throw side-armed while playing infield. Instead, the ball was hit on a line several feet above my position; but I timed its flight perfectly as I leaped, fully extended and snagged it, my body suspended momentarily high above the playing field. I’d caught it cleanly, much to his surprise, and a huge smile graced my face as I landed, tossing the ball joyfully back to him.
Coach Ashmore wasn’t as pleased as I was. He may have acknowledged my singular act of athleticism; but that didn’t keep him from attacking another ball with his Fungo bat, this time making sure the ball reached the fence.
Here I am, in my seventieth year on this spinning planet and this one play came to me as the best play I’d ever made…and it made me smile for having done a great job. I find that more than remarkable.
You may have guessed by now; I was never that good at playing the game of baseball. That hasn’t deterred my love for the game; I still savor nearly every aspect of it. What my experience as a mediocre ball player in high school did was point out the reality of life and how we should appreciate those moments when everything does go right. For most of us, that doesn’t happen all that often.
At the end of the year, I got a “Letter Sweater” since I was a member of the team and it’s still hanging in the closet next to the Dress Greens I wore as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. For some reason I no longer fit into that uniform; it must have shrunk.
Do you want to hear about my best shot in the game of golf? It involved hitting the hubcap of a passing car…Never mind…
Self-Educated American, Senior Editor, T.F. Stern is both a retired City of Houston police officer and, most recently, a retired self-employed locksmith (after serving that industry for 40 plus years). He is also a gifted political and social commentator. His popular and insightful blog, T.F. Sterns Rantings, has been up and at it since January of 2005.