A bigger league, a better man

The days grow warmer and tiny leaf buds make their appearance in the trees. There is a freshness in the air, something is happening. The Red Sox come north and a familiar stirring moves within me. In the papers I begin reading about baseball. The kids in my neighborhood hurry past my house carrying their gloves and bats and talking excitedly.

And then it happens, I want to play baseball! I want to track down a high fly ball sailing serenely through the blue sky. I want to feel it whack into my glove as I snag it with one hand. I want to grab a bat and with it slice the air as I take a few practice cuts. And I want to hit a baseball. I want to send it high and far; I want to see it soar against the sky until it becomes only a white speck in the distance. For me that's what summer is all about.

For years playing baseball was the most important thing in my life. And now I want to do it again, with the same desire I had last year and the year before. I want to sweat under the sun and feel my spikes dig into the grass of the outfield. I want to grab a 35-inch Louisville Slugger and pound the plate, glare out at the pitcher, and dare him to throw one down the pipe. I'll rocket that ball so far it will take them three hours to catch up with it. I want to run, throw, hit, yell, scramble around that third base bag and dig for home.

But I'm in my mid-40s now, married with three kids, and carrying a little spare tire around my middle. I am unable to do all I envision -- but, oh, how I want to! For me baseball wasn't just a game, something to do down at the ballpark with the guys when there was nothing else available. For me it was the stabilizing influence that made life meaningful; it was the centerpiece of existence around which everything else revolved.

So of course I had dreams of becoming a major league ballplayer. From age 8 to 18 I literally lived the game of baseball. In drizzly rain, in scorching heat, from earliest spring to Indian summer, I knew every mound of grass, every anthill, every rocky area in the whole field. It was familiar terrain, my turf. And I loved it. During the winters I would swing weighted bats to strengthen my arms and wrists and improve the power of my batting stance, eagerly anticipating the next season.

When there was no one to play with, when my friends were wasting their time with girlfriends or fooling around with their cars, I would lie face down in the shade of the five willow trees and gaze out over the silent and empty field baking in the summer haze. Heat waves would shimmer over the infield of the nearest diamond, and bees would descend upon the flowering clover that grew in the outfield and along the first-base line. This was my ballpark, my domain, and I could not understand why others who claimed to love baseball would want to be anywhere else.

I would lie there and dream about becoming another Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio, or maybe a Ralph Kiner or Duke Snider. It was all so possible, so near, and would definitely be achieved with constant practice.

I would take off my shirt, pick up my bat, and walk out into the sun. Positioning myself in the proper batting stance I would then swing viciously at the little grass files that buzzed lazily in the summer heat. Each litle fly was a fast ball thrown at me by Bob Feller or Allie Reynolds, and would invariably end up high in the left field nets of Fenway Park. There would be no stopping me.

But in time the dreams and aspirations of youth die under the weight of reality. Ambitions of the heart reluctantly gave way to the realistic evaluations of ability. The seasons went by swiftly, and each one placed upon me new demands. The responsibilities of everyday living made their appearance . . . and time finally ran out on me. I would never be another Ralph Kiner or Koe DiMaggio.

Now, 26 years later, I walk through that same ballpark, reliving old memories , watching young kids with dreams of their own running, sliding, and hitting those long fly balls. Every so often a baseball will roll my way and some kid will call out, "Hey, mister, get that ball?" I pick it up and throw it back, and he yells, "Nice Throw."

Nice throw? Who does he think he's talking to? I want to yell back, "Hey, kid, I was hitting and throwing baseballs all over this field before you were born."

But what would that prove? What does he know or care about my struggles to achieve fame and fortune on the ballfield?

But i know of them, for they have been and still are a part of me. I can still smell that grass, feel that bat in my hands, feel that summer sun upon my body.

Though I never made the big leagues, I am a better man for having tried.

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