Andy's Past Time

Like every other American boy, I used to spend days dreaming I was a professional baseball player. I spent summer afternoons hitting pop flies with my best friend in the large front yard of his farm house. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, the six little league teams faced off for six innings at the local fairgrounds. Though the games didn't start until the evening, I would change into my uniform immediately after school. I would get out my dad's shoe-shining kit and polish my cleats the best a nine year-old could. I'd rub mink oil into my glove until my hands got tired. I would stand in front of the hundred year-old big red barn and throw a ratty ball as high as I could on the roof. It would bounce a few times before rolling back down, gaining speed until it landed in my glove, except on the few occasions when it hit me in the face.

I wasn't particularly good at baseball until 6th or 7th grade. I was fairly tall for my age, so it was easy for me to stretch and swipe wild throws to first base. I had found my position. Unfortunately when I got to high school we already had another first baseman on the team, and we only had ten players. I quickly adapted to second, but only after dropping two pop flies in a row that were hit directly to me in left field. It was one of my most embarrassing moments. Tom Hanks wasn’t lying when he said, “...there’s no crying in baseball!” There are however, glassy eyes outlined by red veins that can only be explained by a desperate phrase like, “ allergies are bad this year.”

When spring rolls around, I don't think of playing baseball anymore. Long gone are the memories of the scent of mink oil on leather and shoe polish. But sometimes I think of my tenth birthday. All I wanted were tickets to see the Detroit Tigers. For months I told my mother that's all I wanted, and being that I was A DECADE OLD I thought I was old enough to go to a game. My birthday came, and I received four tickets for the following month.

"I hope I catch a ball! I hope I catch a ball! I hope I catch a ball!" were my most spoken words for that month. I always envied that fan who emerged from the tens of hands that reached for a foul ball and stood with both hands over his head, victoriously showing the rest of the crowd how proud he was to do what only hundreds of thousands of people had done before. I wanted so bad to be one of the hundreds of thousands. My mother, like a good mother should, insisted that I not get my hopes set too high and that I just focus on enjoying the game. "But it's going to happen, I just know it! I can feel it!"

I walked into Tiger Stadium with my brother, father and grandfather. We found our seats in the lower deck, between home and first. We were nearly in the back row. I knew there was no way a foul ball had ever been hit within twenty rows of where we were sitting. My heart was broken. Then the players came out to warm up. Lou Whitaker, Scott Livingstone, Cecil Fielder. I ate a ballpark frank. My dad drank a beer. My grandpa got a bag of peanuts whose shucks would later lay in a mound between his feet. Going to a Major League Baseball game is an American right of passage into manhood. I soon regained my composure and decided maybe my mother was right in telling me not to get my hopes up, and I became content in just watching the game.

My brother asked if we could go near the dugout to get autographs. Dad let us go by ourselves, which was something Mom never would have done, even though I was now ten years old and able to keep myself from any mischief that might arise in a baseball stadium located in downtown Detroit.

There were several other kids gathered around the dugout, most taller than me and with arms long enough to reach over the fence to hand programs and Sharpies to the players. I just stood in the back of the crowd, feeling small.

Then everyone standing in front of me jumped. Naturally, I jumped too. When my feet landed I looked in my left hand to find a slightly marred baseball. I couldn't believe it! I clenched the baseball tight and screamed! The faces of all the people around me projected nothing but disappointment, which made me even happier.

We arrived back at my Grandma and Grandpa's house after the game and I showed the ball to my mom with a smug, I told you so grin. From that day forward, I never trusted my mother again.

Posted on April 09, 2012