Not only have the Cubs been painful to watch, the last series before the break was absolutely unwatchable in any way. Ugly, uglier, and ugliest in three games against the Pirates.
But then came the All-Star break. Hurray! Home Run Derby! Pure escape! Hurray! Never mind that only one Cub was selected for the NL All-Star team where one year ago the NL starting lineup looked like the daily Cubs roster. Relax! Enjoy the game.
But then, as if to tell us that, no, not even the All-Star break will bring relief (so to speak) this year, the lone Cub representative, Wade Davis, gave up the game-winning home run in the tenth inning. All those Cub coaches on the bench who were considered baseball geniuses a short season ago suddenly looked like knuckleheads.
Oh well. The horror starts up again tomorrow so some baseball escape is in order, I think. Following is a baseball memory of long ago, a memory that to this day reminds me why I love this game so much. A version of it was first published on Baseballisms.com perhaps seven years ago ...
My First Homer
The long, narrow, vacant lot across the street lay as an open invitation, almost begging the neighborhood kids to transform it into a crude playground, or perhaps a ballpark. The big boys on our block saw its potential and created a Wiffle ball field. They made up a set of rules so you could play with as few as two on a team. If you hit the ball past the fielder, it was a single. Past a particular bush, a double. Past the apple tree, a triple. And into the high weeds way out there, halfway to the alley, a home run. There were no bases. You had to remember where your men-on-base stood on the non-existent diamond.
I was six years old and too little to play with those kids, but I loved to sit in the overgrown grass on the other side of the public sidewalk and watch the big boys pitch and swing the bat. They looked huge and powerful and as confident as Ernie Banks, even though the oldest among them might have been ten.
One day they must have been short a player because the older kid who lived almost at the end of the block asked if I wanted to be on his team. Me? How could he be asking me to play? This kid was cool and had the biggest baseball card collection in the neighborhood. But I jumped up and took the field. Luckily, no hits came my way, so I couldn’t flub anything. When it came time for our side to bat, he handed me the thin, wooden Wiffle ball bat with fraying black friction tape wrapped around its handle. I stepped up to the “plate,” a dirt smudge where no grass grew. All I wanted to do was make contact. A ground out to the pitcher was still better than striking out. There was no way I could hit the triple area, let alone the tall grass for a homer.
The pitcher wound up and threw. The pierced plastic ball picked up random air currents and danced its way toward me like a knuckler. I swung and missed. I took a deep breath and exhaled. No one spoke. No encouragement. No ridicule. Just silence. I lifted the bat above my back shoulder and looked out at the pitcher.
The next pitch came in a little straighter, so I let up on my swing and felt the clean, full, satisfying vibration of a solid hit. But I had gotten ahead of the ball and pulled it left and foul. It flew over a chain link fence at the corner of a neighbor’s yard. I was relieved. If I had hit it straight it would have been a routine fly ball out.
All of sudden my teammate started screaming and patting me on the back. “Way to go! Way to go!” Even the pitcher and his fielder had to jog to the plate and congratulate me.
“What’d I do?” I asked.
“You got yourself a homer!” said the big kid from near the end of the block, my teammate.
I didn’t know it, but the boys had designated that corner of the fence the “short shelf” of their field. You had to land the ball just right, and I, without realizing it, had done it.
“Perfectly placed,” said the pitcher. “Nobody’s ever hit one there before!”
My first home run, and to this day, over sixty years later, the only one I remember.
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