For twelve years in a row I spent my summers playing baseball. I started with T-ball when I was five years old, and played through the summer that I turned sixteen.
Sandy Koufax also played twelve years, but that’s where the similarities between the two of us end.
My dad instilled a love of the game in me at an early age. I have vivid memories of watching Cubs games in the living room on a small television that sat on top of a larger television that didn’t work. We used Visegrips to turn the channel. During the summer, my dad would call from work, and my sisters or I would have to put the phone next to the television speaker so he could hear the score.
Such was baseball’s importance in our house.
When I played baseball the entire family was involved. My dad helped run the league, my mom was in charge of the concession stand, and my two sisters and I would spend afternoons at the field doing maintenance before the games began at night.
For about half the years that I played, my dad managed my team. That didn’t mean that I got more playing time than everyone else. My dad made sure every kid on the team played the same number of innings throughout the season. Perhaps that’s why we never finished a season better than 8-8.
We had fun though. Any kid who ever played on any one of the teams that my dad coached ended up having fun. We were competitive, but we were there to have fun. After all, we were just a bunch of kids playing a game. No need to take it too seriously.
I was fortunate enough to be a pretty good player. I was a very good pitcher, and a decent hitter. I was solid on defense, and had a good arm, but my dad used to tease me that I ran like I had a piano on my back.
The summer when I was thirteen was particularly brutal. That’s when we made the shift from the Little League-sized field to the major league-sized field. The basepaths were longer, the pitcher and the outfield fence farther away. I ended up with three or four hits that season, in about 45 at-bats. Brutal.
The next year my dad didn’t plan to manage, but at the last minute another manager quit. I was already on a team though, so when my dad volunteered to manage, it meant that we’d be on different teams. Twice that season my team played his team. We lost both times. I thought maybe he would try to throw the games—you know, me being his son and all—but he didn’t, and I’m glad.
At sixteen we played on a travel team. It was the first time, other than all-stars, that I played on a really good team. I had a good year and continued to improve.
However, like almost every single kid that ever played baseball, reality eventually set in.
At the end of the season of my sixteenth summer, I got a job at a grocery store. Baseball season was over, I was getting my license, I wanted a car.
By the next summer, the job and the car took precedence over baseball. I never played in a league again.
The job is just an excuse, actually. I was good, but I was cut from my freshman and sophomore year baseball team, just like Michael Jordan on his basketball team. I was no Michael Jordan. So I have no illusions that I would have been able to play college or professional baseball. The odds of anyone doing that are miniscule.
I still think about those years playing baseball though. The friends I made, the teams we hated, the jokes we pulled, the injuries sustained. Entire Saturdays spent at the little league field. The bat stinging my hands at the early-April practices. Diving catches. Base hits. A ground ball double play to end a season. The stillness on the field, under the lights, after the last game of the night when everyone else is gone and my dad and another guy are dragging the dirt. My mom telling me I played a good game, even though I struck out four times and made three errors.
Twelve years may seem like a long time, but it goes by in the blink of an eye. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Then all we have is memories.
And baseball. Because even though I’m not playing, it’s still there for the next kid.
This was written as part of ChicagoNow's monthly Blogapalooz-Hour, in which bloggers are given a prompt, and then have one hour to write. The prompt that elicited the above post was to write about something in my life that I've given up, but that I wish I still did. You can read other blogger's entries here: https://storify.com/ChicagoNow/chicagonow-s-blogapalooz-hour-volume-xiii
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