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Of Baseball and Boyhood

When baseball becomes life.

The author after playing a tournament at the Field of Dreams in Iowa. Image provided by the author.

Of Baseball and Boyhood

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes
The author, after finishing a game on the Field of Dreams, in Iowa.

“When the bat meets that ball and you feel that ball just give, you know it’s going to go a long way. Damn, if you don’t feel like you’re going to live forever.” – Buck Weaver, Eight Men Out

“I believe there ought to be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.” – Crash Davis, Bull Durham

“This field, this game…it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.” – Terrence Mann, Field of Dreams

It all began for me in 1985.

I was seven years old. Back to the Future had made the DeLorean relevant again, and a 20-year-old kid from Tampa named Dwight Gooden was mowing down National League hitters with impunity. Now, what I knew about baseball could have fit in two lines on the back of a Topps baseball card, but something about the game drew me in.

History shows us that the 1985 Mets won 98 games and lost the National League East to the St. Louis Cardinals in the last week of the season. I don’t remember much about the 1985 season, and surprisingly, I remember very little about the 1986 season. The bug hadn’t yet bitten me, although it was getting close.

The turning point was when the 1986 World Series began. I can remember – vividly – watching the World Series at my grandparents’ house; Newsday had published scorecards on the back pages of the daily paper, and my grandfather attempted to teach an amped-up 8-year-old how to keep score. (Neither my attention span nor my handwriting were up to the task.) It wasn’t my grandfather, or scorekeeping, or even the games themselves that grabbed my attention: it was the crowd.

When the Mets won Game 7, they celebrated, the crowd celebrated, and as I watched the emotion and joy pour out of the TV screen, I was hooked. I was drawn to the pure elation of the moment, the power of the “Let’s Go Mets” chant reverberating through the stadium, and the joy on the faces of the players.

Baseball became life.

I lived and died by the day with Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, and the rest of the players on those dominant late-80’s Mets teams. But even the day-to-day exploits of my boyhood heroes weren’t enough. I wanted more, always more, but you have to remember that this was the late 1980’s; I couldn’t just hop on to my favorite website to get information or Google players. So, I turned to the one source that we had for knowledge: the library.

I’m fairly certain that I read every book about Mets history that the Mastic-Moriches-Shirley Community library had on its shelves at least 10 times. Birthdays and Christmases became an exercise in finding as many tomes containing the legend and lore of the blue and orange as there were in print; many of these books still sit on the shelves of my office today, pages yellowed and dog-eared as reminders of the many hours that I had spent of my youth and adolescence reading of the exploits of Mets teams relegated to the history books. The players I now followed on TV and on the radio gave way to names I had never heard of. I read of the bumbling Mets of ‘62, the Miracle Mets of ‘69, and the You Gotta Believe team of ‘73.

A gift for my 13th birthday was The Baseball Encyclopedia, and I dove in with reckless abandon. Imagine my joy to discover that Jim Brosnan had been a pitcher for the Cardinals, Reds, and Cubs in the 1950s! (Much later in life, I would also discover “The Long Season”, which proved to be a wonderful read.)

(Despite the name, DEFINITELY not the author.)

Sadly for me, my love and knowledge of the game was not matched by my ability for the game.

By my late teens, I found myself headed for college to become a music teacher with books, papers, and my instruments. However, I was now without my glove, now relegated to an old duffel bag in my closet. While I had played throughout my teenage years, I had now resigned myself to the fact that my days were going to be quarter notes and crescendos, not four-seam fastballs and double plays. I-IV-V had now replaced 6-4-3.

Even so, baseball continued to mark the time. I was at Shea Stadium when Todd Pratt homered to dead center off of Matt Mantei to win the 1999 Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. When Luis Sojo singled in 2 runs in the top of the ninth inning of Game 5 off of Al Leiter to all but end the 2000 World Series, I died a little inside. I cried and cheered when Mike Piazza homered off of Steve Karsay on September 21, 2001 to beat the Atlanta Braves in the first baseball game in New York after 9/11.

Fast-forward to today.

Today, I find myself married to a wonderful woman who didn’t know much of anything about baseball when we met. However, by the time we were married in November of 2013, she used custom-made Louisville Sluggers as guestbooks. (The colors were blue and orange, naturally.) We became the proud parents of The Dude in May of 2018 and brought him to his first game a mere four months later. History will show that his first excursion to Citi Field was a five-hit shutout thrown by Noah Syndergaard.

(The Dude on his first visit to Citi Field.)

In addition to that, while I may have left the game, it never left me. In the fall of 2011, I found myself back on a field, digging in to the right-hand batter’s box with my number 25 once again on my back. Eight years later, I’ve gotten to play both at the Field of Dreams and at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. I still can’t hit the slider away or the fastball at the letters, but who cares? The crack of the bat and the smell of the glove are the same as they were when I was 8 years old, and at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?

(That third baseman is about to get a rocket over his head.)

This column will be full of such tales. Stories of a life intertwined with baseball and all of its emotion and romanticism, from the perspective of both a rabid fan and a dedicated amateur ballplayer. I hope you enjoy taking this trip with me.

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