There is a cracking sound a baseball makes when it is hit by a baseball bat. It says hello spring, it says be alert, it says this is the magic of baseball. Growing up in the early 1960’s baseball was a huge part of my life. Living in the New York metropolitan area meant there was usually a baseball tradition at your home. There was always the New York Yankees with my older brothers hero’s Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Folks whose families originated in Brooklyn loved the Dodgers until they left for L.A. Others loved the New York Giants, who also left New York. Many of the fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants morphed into New York Mets fans with the Mets playing at the Polo Grounds in 1962 and 1963 and eventually Shea Stadium. At that time Mets fans where called “The New Breed,” I liked those original Mets because when they won a game it was a real celebration.
As all us sixty-something folks know how things were very different back in our childhood. There were no devices such as iPhones, laptops, Xboxes. The TV had 3 to 5 channels if you were lucky, and the programing was very limited. If you were a young grammar school boy, a baseball bat, glove and ball were your devices with baseball cards your websites. On the back of those baseball cards were career statistics of the players, where they played in the minor leagues, their yearly batting averages, hits, at bats and if the player was a pitcher, his won-loss records and his ERA. We would trade them like general managers, two or three of these for one of those. We gambled with the cards “flipping” them. Remember this, attaching our crummiest cards to our bikes using “clothespins” to make that sort of motorcycle sound. I still have lots of baseball cards.
Every boy had a baseball glove, his own baseball glove. You would put linseed oil on it to break it in and spent hours tossing a ball into the glove to help create “the pocket.” You played catch with your dad, your brother maybe even your mom. You took that baseball glove everywhere – perhaps attached to the handlebar of your bike or wrapped on your baseball bat. I still have my last baseball glove. It’s well over 50-years-old, and it’s in great shape. I have used it over the decades for the odd softball game or catch.
The magic of baseball back then was it could be played it many ways such as, two people stickball against the wall at Prospect Hill School, five on a team hitting the baseball out of your hand and only to left field, or even with a whiffle ball. Other creative combinations were based on where you were that day. Then there was little league, with its levels. When you started it was the international league, then Sally/ivy league and as you got older you graduated into the little league major league. If you were good enough it was then onto the pre-high school Babe Ruth league. Every boy remembers putting on his little league uniform each spring for the first time. You always tried to get a new one and one that fit. If you were lucky you would get a good number. Then there was the private matter of how you wore your baseball caps, how you fashioned the bills bending and molding them until you thought they were perfect. Every year you had to try on a few of your team’s hat sizes to make sure the cap fit just right, plastic adjustable straps had not yet been invented!
I can still recite proudly how my teams at each level did real well. My first team, the Tigers, actually coached by Mrs. Eugene Curran won it all. Then on the next level with the Royals (major league) coached by Pelham Legend Richie Bell we lost in Pelham’s Little League World Series to the Jets. My last team, Legion won the Babe Ruth League against First Fire. In fact, 30 years later I bought the house (that became the childhood home for my kids) that was located on the corner of the field where I played my first little league game. Every spring I could hear the sound of the bat hitting the balls on the nearby field and cheers when someone really hit one. I fondly remember one beautiful spring night when my daughter asked me if we could go to a baseball game. I said, “Sure, I will get Yankees tickets.” She said, “Dad, I want to go see that game,” and she pointed to the little league game right in front of our house. Note: This field also was where my daughters played most of their soccer games. Literally, right out our front door. Eventually my daughters even attended Derek Jeter’s second game as a Yankee – his rookie season in 1996. They went home wearing Derek Jeter t-shirts with the number 2 on the back (their request), who knew, it was his rookie season. My daughters were very young and Jeter was also very young.
I am now sixty-something, but I still get a charge every spring when that John Fogerty song comes on the car radio and I hear, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today. Look at me, I can be centerfield!”