We first met on a tiny, moderately maintained schoolyard a few blocks down from the house I grew up in. You welcomed me inside your chalk lines, greeting me with the promise of a bit of fun with the neighborhood kids.
And that’s what I had – fun. Initially, we’d just chuck the ball around and, if there were enough of us, maybe have a “Sandlot” style pickup game. More often than not, it was just a few of us scattered around the diamond fielding grounders and fly balls while we each took a turn at bat. Eventually, I found my way into an actual uniform when my parents signed me up for Little League. I’d leave the house on game day and bound that handful of blocks, excited to grab a bat, walk to the plate and take my hacks. I was eager to snag a ground ball at shortstop a la one of my boyhood idols – Ozzie Smith. I looked forward to the competition over 7 little league innings that, regardless of the outcome, ended with opponents shaking hands and congratulating each other for a well fought battle. Man, those were the days.
My athleticism was more along the lines of “decent to good at lots of sports but never great at any of them”. As I grew older, I turned my attention to soccer – which had long been the dominant sport in my household. My father was a referee. I played throughout my high school years. My brothers both played until they were college graduates – and one of them even carved out a professional career. Despite trading in the chalk lines and infield dirt for the spacious grass expanse of a soccer pitch, I still carried a soft spot in my heart for you, baseball.
While my competitive playing days were in the rear view mirror…
I had kept in touch with you. I remember going to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets and Padres go to extra innings. There was the time I was sitting somewhere in the nosebleeds in right field with my grandmother. She told my mother to make an appointment for me with the eye doctor because I couldn’t read the name on the right fielder’s jersey. I started wearing glasses in 8th grade. I still get chills when I think back on the days of Gooden, Darling, Hernandez, Carter, Franco, and the rest of my beloved Metsies. Man, those were the days.
My collegiate experience took me to Massachusetts, but don’t worry. I still bled orange and blue, despite being deep in Red Sox country. Admittedly though, things hit a rough patch with you, baseball. I found myself turning more and more to other things in my life. I found a love for the theatre and music that started taking up residence in my heart. By the time I graduated college, you were more of a passing thought to me than a sought out companion. It wasn’t anyone’s fault – that’s just how things were going. Then came 1998.
You Should Thank Mark and Sammy
They brought me back to you. They got me excited about the game in a way I hadn’t felt since those days in the schoolyard years ago. Of course, this time around I stuck with you. Instead of teammates, this time I had great friends and fellow fans. The bats, gloves, balls, and spikes were traded in for hot dogs, beers, and souvenir helmets filled with ice cream. Man those were the days.
And now, here we are. It’s 2020. The world is upside down. Fans everywhere have been clamoring for sports. And as the calendar turns to summer, you’re nowhere to be found.
And Where Are You?
Fighting with yourself. You’re off having a meltdown in the sandbox. You’re in denial about how you fit in with the other kids. You’re watching all the others playing in the sandbox.
While this “negotiation” is playing out in the media, it becomes easier to just toss up my hands, get off the bench, and join the others in the sandbox. I’d love nothing more than to toss a ball around with you. But man, you’re just exhausting right now. And every day that passes, I am realizing how OK I am with the idea of not having baseball. Please – figure it out, and do it soon. The sandbox is more fun when all the kids are there.
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