Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Four Dreams - #2

Friday is my 50th birthday.

Oh, have I told you that before? I'm sorry. It is the truth, however, and my mother told me to never be ashamed of telling the truth.

Today is Tuesday - and it is the 7th day of my Lenten spring trainging diet. I've probably told you about that before, too, but just in case...

I have given up all flour products and all dairy – excluding what I put into my coffee - for Lent. I’ve already lost five pounds. Of course, the weight won’t keep falling off as easily as it has this first week, but I still expect to have lost 12 or 15 pounds by Easter. I do this as a form of religious sacrifice, but also because it keeps me from killing myself during the first couple of weeks of softball season.

And all of the above finally gets us to the point of this piece, which is the recounting of another childhood dream (I gave you the first one yesterday) and how it turned out. The childhood dream I’m going to tell you about today is my desire to be a major league baseball player and manager.

Every man in the United States, excluding a couple of sissies and maybe some blind kid, wanted to be a major league baseball player when he was a child. This is the stone cold truth, no matter what anybody says. If some adult American male tells you that he never wanted to be a major league baseball player, and he can see you, then... well, you know.

I wanted to be a baseball player, but I wasn’t very good. For one thing, I was always the youngest kid in my gang. As a result, I was less physically mature than the other guys. I hadn’t developed the hand-eye coordination that they had, so I wasn’t a very good hitter. I did, however, have lightning reflexes. My reflexes gave me my one saving grace on a ballfield at that time. I was an excellent reaction fielder.

Balls hit at very fast speeds were in my glove before I even thought about it. Good thing, too, because when I had a chance to think about it, the results weren’t nearly as good. I played first base on our neighborhood team. If a liner came my way, it was an out – period. It didn’t matter where it was, as long as it was within my reach. Same for errant throws from the other fielders. I just reacted and caught them. Give me a slow roller, though, and I became Bill Buckner in 1986. Any time I had to think about what I was doing, I didn’t do it very well.

(My reflexes remained amazingly sharp until last year, when they let me down for the first time ever. I almost got killed by a liner last season, which is why this coming season will most definitely be my last. For the gruesome details, go here.)

Anyway, that was when I was 7 or 8 years old. As I grew to be 9, 10, 11 and 12, things got better. I still wasn’t a great hitter, but I was better than I had been. My reflexes were still sharp, of course, and I became a better fielder overall. I had a bad arm, though, and I’ve never had a particularly good one since, either. That’s the reason I played first base more often than any other position. If there has been one constant failing in my skills as a ballplayer, that would be it. I can’t throw accurately worth a damn.

I played Little League ball, but that was the smallest part of the ball played in my youth. We played pick-up games every day of the week during summer vacation, from the time we all went out until it became too dark to play. As a matter of fact, all of us quit Little League about halfway through the first season because we didn’t get to play enough. Why sit on the bench, with one or two scheduled games a week, when you could play five or six games every day and play every inning of those games? Don’t get me wrong; Little League is great for some kids. In our neighborhood, though, we had enough kids to field two full teams most days, so that was easily the better option.

I wanted to be a manager, too. That’s not a dream a lot of kids have, I suppose. I’ve gone into that at length in yet another piece I wrote some time ago. Since I was the youngest kid in our crowd, I had no chance to be manager in our pick-up games. That was reserved for the oldest and strongest. So managing was strictly a fantasy and I didn’t expect to fulfill it without becoming a better player.

I grew older and caught up to my friends in physical gifts. I reached my teens and played CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) ball. I played for Saint Gregory’s in Dorchester. I still wasn’t any kind of great hitter, but these were the first games outside of that half-a-season of Little League wherein there were actual umpires. I learned my strike zone then and I also learned that, in order to be a good batter, you don’t necessarily have to hit the ball. If your eye is good enough, you can get on base without even swinging. I learned how to draw walks and cut down on my strikeouts. Just as my throwing has always been the worst part of my game, from that point on patience became the best part of it. To this day, I consistently draw more walks than anybody else on my teams and, in most instances, the entire league. I’ll forego humility entirely and tell you that I believe I’ve been the best leadoff hitter in every league I’ve played in over the last 30 years.

Back to the past - I played a bit in high school, but I was a scrubeeni. And since I never went to college, I never tried playing at that level. So, since high school graduation, I’ve played softball.

(I get defensive about softball. Most folks immediately think of fat guys running around in shorts with a beer in one hand. I play fast-pitch softball, not beer league crap. I’ve seen guys who played college baseball come into some of the leagues I’ve been in and flop completely. When you have to get your swing off on a pitch from 46 feet, as opposed to 60 feet 6 inches, it takes a major adjustment. And if you’re an infielder, the ball is on top of you faster than in baseball and you don’t have time to set before you throw; you have to get rid of it immediately. Anyway, fast-pitch is a serious sport, not a joke.)

I obviously never became a major league player. I didn’t have anywhere near the skills. Good field, no power, high on-base percentage, but wicked bad arm. Not too many teams are looking for first basemen with no power. I resigned myself to that fact by the time I was 18.

As I said earlier, I’m going to be 50 this Friday. I’m going to play ball for one more season and then quit. Now, how many major league players can say that they’ve played until they were 50? Unless you count Satchel Paige, just about none - that’s how many. I’ve played ball for at least 10 or 15 more seasons than most major leaguers. When it comes to longevity, I’m a major success.

I’ve also been manager of teams during 20 or so different seasons. It’s not the same as being a major league manager, that’s for sure. It’s closer to babysitting sometimes than managing. That’s OK. I’ve enjoyed it. Last year was my final year as a manager. I’m just going to enjoy playing during this final season.

I take great satisfaction in the fact that there isn’t a single one of the folks I grew up with who is still playing ball. I was made fun of a lot, when I was a pre-teen, due to my small stature and poor hitting. I was picked last or next to last, for a lot of teams, a lot of times. I never gave up, though, and I’m still playing and enjoying the hell out of it. The ones who made fun of me? Long gone, for decades now. I guarantee I could outplay every single one of the sons of bitches now, in every phase of the game – even with my bum arm.

So, I’ve enjoyed playing a game that I love for some 42 years - 43 by the time I retire. The only thing I haven’t done is play on a championship team. I’d really like to go out doing that. If I don’t, though, it will be fine. I’ve had great fun and played with some swell people. I’ve run around in the sun like a little kid for better than four decades.

Dream fulfilled? You bet. Lou Gehrig said it first, showing extreme class under dire circumstances, but I hope he won’t mind if I say it, too, since I firmly believe it. Today I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Tomorrow: Rock ‘n Roll!!!

(Go To Dream #3)


Anonymous said...

I feel your pain about the lack of respect. I play competitive Ultimate -- I've even played in two Canadian Nationals. We're talking some high level athletes here.

And still, when I tell people that I play Ultimate, they invariably say something along the lines of, "Oh, where you throw the frisbee to the dog?"

Michael Leggett said...

Welcome to "5-0":

It's ONLY a #.

Suldog said...

Sween - You mean it isn't where you throw a frisbee to a dog?

Just kidding. Your sport is one of the nicer on the planet. Very athletic and very gentlemanly at the same time.

Has there ever been a push to get it into the Olympics?

Michael - Thank you. Yes, it's only a number, but so many people attach much more significance to that number than I do, so I'm going to beat it into the ground this week :-)

Sassy said...

Well Happy early Birthday in case I forget!! And, I STILL want to be a baseball player. But I think that even I am too ladylike for that sport...and a lady I ain't. Hubby wanted to be one, too, til choir conflicted with baseball practice and he chose choir. Wow, how gay does that sound? LOL

Anonymous said...

The most vivid, technicolor dreams that I have these days are the ones that involve me playing baseball at Fenway either as a member of the Sox or taking BP with my buddies. I believe my dreams are enhanced by the fact that I have been on the "auld sod" a number of times, usually after a game, in various states of inebriation. If you hang around the park long enough after a game the place literally empties out and you can roam around the place(if you've got the nads).
I am playing in an over-30 baseball league this year, which, I am quite sure, will further reinforce the fact that I will only make it onto the field at Fenway in my dreams (or drunk after a game, illegally).

Oh yeah, Joe Mooney was pretty quick for an old guy.

Suldog said...

Sassy - Pretty gay, yes. But tomorrow's entry has to do with my own musical career, so I'd beter not say anything that might come back to haunt me.

Cuz - Did Joe Mooney catch you?

Anonymous said...

Mooney never caught me..but..after one game in May 1992 my buddy and his bro lost their keys in the bleachers where I had season tix for about 7 years. While they where waiting at the lost and found behind home plate I wandered out onto the field. After taking a couple practice swings at home plate and walking out to the mound I sat in the Sox dugout at one end while Gammons and Hobson were having a chat at the other end. I got up after a few minutes to go and check on the key search and as I was entering the box seats from the gate next to the dugout, a japanese dude and his woman were standing there and asked me if they could go out on to field to take some photos. I said "sure, but don't take to long" trying to sound official. As I head down the runway behind homeplate I could hear Mooney yelling "Get the fuck off the fuckin' field goddammit, what the fuck do you think you're fuckin' doin'". I was laughing imagining the confusion that must have ensued. Lots of profanity and lots of bowing...so solly...so solly

KAYLEE said...

Nice post by that reminded me how I broke my hand...........That is a memory I would rather forget:D

Unknown said...

I love baseball (as a spectator). How great that it's been a wonderful part of your life.

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Anonymous said...

know nothing about Baseball, except, isn't it a version of our Rounders [Chuckle]

It is a dream that you stuck at...admiration springs from my heart.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful accomplishment - playing ball that long. Hell, doing something you love that long! Dream come true for sure. (my husband and I played on a co-ed team a long time ago, when I was still young. Worse charly horse I've ever had! Last year I played. Kudos to you!)