Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Innocence Lost, Part II

To read part I, please CLICK HERE.

Baseball has been part of my life since I can remember. It was in third grade, some time after Travis and I finally finished that map of London when baseball became serious.

The small dirt patch behind the elementary school was our field, as poor as it was. We had a pillow for one base and a chunk of concrete for another. Sliding into second was a trepidous affair for fear of mother later looking at torn jeans or heads being cracked open if you were brave enough to go head first in the style of Pete Rose.

We had progressed from merely a wild herd of children running like mobs towards any ball to an organized gang who picked sides much to the chagrin of those always picked last. It is where I heard my first profanity uttered by a friend. A quick, "hot damn" when I accidently slung my bat into the catcher's face. It was where I first felt that the strangeness of girls was not so strange after all.

She was the preachers kid, full of straight black hair and a tiny mole on her cheek. She came to watch the games with her small friends because they too were figuring out that boys were not so strange after all. One day, she caught a line drive off her forearm. Screams burst forth and of course we did what boys do in moments of panic involving girls - stood stock still in panic. Fortunately for everyone, a nearby teacher came over and ushered her back to the school building. As she walked in the door, bravely choking back tears and clutching her arm, I muttered, "there goes my girl". Nearby, another boy overheard and the taunts began, leaving my mind reeling with the questions of what had I done and what would happen when she inevitably heard what I said?

A few days later, we were back on the patch of dirt playing baseball and shockingly the girls came back as well. The preachers daughter was there, now with a cast on her arm. And just once, she favored me with a smile.

On the field, baseball and I soon parted ways. Natural ability is a harsh evolutionary governor. But it never strayed far from my mind.

Lack of ability on the field morphed into passion of the mind and the mind's easy focus was the Atlanta Braves. Those miserable Braves of the late 70's. It didn't matter to me how horrible they were on the field; the roster was filled with such exotic names as Lum, Pocoroba and Naharodny. They also had a lanky Mormon kid at catcher with a tendency to throw the ball into center field. I had cousins who were Mormons and I had a tendency to throw ball wildly, so at ten years old, I figured I could relate.

A frequent debate in sports circle is which is your favorite sport. Baseball or Football? I once described the difference as marriage versus a one night stand. Football is hot, sweaty, full of action. It happens once a week for a few hours and you leave sated. Baseball goes on for nine months, day after day, only changing incrementally, and at the end, you just hope for a little extra love in the playoffs. But there is always the comfort of knowing spring training is just a few months away.

Not that there isn't passion in baseball. Much like marriage, it is passionate but most times it is a slow burn. Ask any Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees or Dodgers fan about their team and you will receive a mixture of grief, fondness, madness and frivolity. Sometimes anger, if you cross a line.

Ask me and you will hear tales of wonder at Phil Niekro signing a baseball, Dale Murphy hitting another homer, Dale Murphy striking out on another slider, the brief glory of the early eighties and the sustained ecstasy of the 90s.

Ask a young friend of mine about his team and he will imitate Chipper Jones swing, note that John Smoltz is pitching this week and Kelly Johnson is making us all forget the beloved Marcus Giles.

He will also tell you about Willie Harris.

Concluded in Part III.

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