For the love of … Baseball

Thud … thud … thud … thud … The sound of a Pensy Pinky bouncing off the front gable of my house. Repeatedly. Through 9 innings of my imaginary baseball game. It was always the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers playing some other team. Or, maybe against each other in my make-believe World Series. I knew all the line-ups. So, there I’d be, usually on a summer’s evening, bouncing that little rubber ball against the house, fielding it with my old Rawlings glove, and narrating the play-by-play. I never remember my parents complaining. I loved baseball. Still do. My Dad was a big Brooklyn Dodgers fan. I was indoctrinated with all their names from early on … Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Pee-Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson … the whole crew. But, when they, and the New York Giants, moved to California after the 1957 season, he gave up on them. Worse, there was no National League Baseball in New York. So, I temporarily became a New York Yankees fan. Got to relish that historic 1961 season. Then, along came the Mets and the NL was back! Went to see the Dodgers when they came to town as often as I could. Sunday doubleheaders with a brown bag full of Mom’s meatballs [the BEST] on fresh NY Italian bread. There is absolutely nothing like walking through the runways at a Major League park and seeing that lush green grass appear before you. Then there were the board games … from Bottle-Cap Baseball to Strat-O-Matic [which, I must confess, I still have the computer version on my system for an occasional roll of the dice]. We played for hours up there in the old playroom when we were kids. Knew all the stats, all the players … I collected baseball cards, scorecards, yearbooks, you name it. Ah, but the most fun of all was actually playing baseball. From stickball at the park in Laurelton, across the Belt Parkway, to the fields over at Alden Terrace, Shaw Avenue, Central High, or Fireman’s Field, sometimes on a patch of grass adjacent to the Parkway. We played and played. Oh, forgot the most frequent place … Bombers Field … otherwise known as the street. All summer long we had pickup games there right in the middle of the street in the old neighborhood. I’m not talking about just rubber ball, either. We played softball, rubber-coated hardball, and plain old-fashioned hardball. Smashed many a window. We weren’t sissies about it, of course … diving through hedges, sliding on the pavement … one time, I cracked my knee cap trying to make a running, over the shoulder catch … ran right into a parked car at full speed. Rolled around in pain for a few minutes, then got up and finished the game. Next morning, my left knee was the size of a football. Full leg cast for 6 weeks. Little League, too. I played for a VFW team. We won the championship one year and got to play against the All-Stars … I can remember in the pregame infield practice, making a stellar play on a ground ball way off to my left [I was the 2nd baseman]. The crowd gave me nice applause and I was so proud. Then, during the game, I was forced to make almost the identical play, and I bobbled it for an error. We lost 2-1. Last time I actually played was in 1984, I think it was. Men’s softball league. Got home from a practice one evening just when the dew was forming on the grass and decided to mow the grass. Slipped on a hill and the mower fell on my left foot, taking off a good chunk of my big toe. Watched my dog eat the dismembered part. Weird feeling. Actually, I was pretty lucky that it didn’t take off half my foot, but I could never really run again. Nine weeks before I could return to work. I’m not sure what was more fun, playing or coaching. I coached boys from 8-12 for 5 years. Won 2 championships. Great experience. Nothing like teaching those young men the game I loved. Still do. All this is my longwinded way of saying that in this first year of retirement [EDIT: originally posted 2-18-2013], and as the Major Leaguers assemble for spring training, I am looking forward to really following my Dodgers for the first time since the Mike Piazza days. They have a pretty good team and am planning to enjoy a good, old-fashioned baseball season! Go Dodgers!! Oh, and I love apple pie, too!

Home of the Brooklyn Dodgers

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