Sunday, May 3, 2009

You were always on my mind ....Baseball

Baseball has woken me up from a deep winter slumber.
My eight year old son Matt is playing in his third year of Little League and if given the choice in life would rather watch TV, play baseball all day and eat cookies than go to school ,wash behind his ears and eat spinach.
Forty years ago in Cincinnati,Ohio I was him .Except I think I liked spinach and TV options were much more limited than 10 hour Zack and Cody"Suite Life" marathons with a side of Sponge Bob and Drake and Josh for good measure .
My life was fed with stimulus from other rabid baseball fanatics .My dad and brother Dave.
Pete Rose was our hometown god and Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium  were his temples.
As much as I loved playing sandlot baseball with my buddies and mixing it up I came to accept the fact that the organized game was not going to be a part of my life past the age of 10.
After two years of less than earth shattering results in Little League.My dad and I decided to call it quits on my baseball career and follow my path to becoming a tennis player .
I hated right field anyway !
Was this a mistake ? Did I give up on my field of dreams? Maybe. I still loved to compete and get in the mix . The sandlot was still there for me after school on most days growing up in North Avondale , my boyhood neighborhood .
Two boys from North Avondale made it all the way from the sandlot to the "Show".
Darryl Boston and David Justice .Not me.
I channeled my energies towards the tennis courts and in 1973 made it to the finals of the city championships for the Boys under 12 age division (more on that story later).
Tennis was great for me but so much of our lives are shaped by baseball and my passion for America's game never died. It lived through years of "The Big Red Machine " all the way to the Reds 1990 title with Lou Piniella.
I always remained a loyal Redleg baseball fan .
The Reds became mediocre and living in New York I was exposed to a whole other level of rabid sports fanatics . Mike and the"Mad Dog" . Fans that demanded winning teams.Calling for players and coaches heads if they lost .
George M. Steinbrenner . Winning at all costs .For a simple midwestern boy it was a bit off putting.
Then along came Joe Torre ,Jeter and Don Zimmer .Zimmer a Cincinnati son with the Yankees.
Loyalties were shifted .I was scared to tell my dad I was a convert to the "Bronx Bombers".
I don't know if to this day I ever broached the subject.
Tough to talk about. I am getting choked up as I type.
Then in 1999 I learned I was going to have a son of my own .
On a hot summer night in 2000 my son was born.
Before he was born I had some worries about the dynamics of a father/son relationship weighing heavily on my mind .
My daughter was easy .Cute as a button and following her mom into the worlds of gymnastics and all things not familiar to me.
Was my boy going to play tennis or sports at all .Be a righty or lefty . Eat all his vegetables .
Important stuff .
In August 2001 my dad was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Reds-Brewers game and we were allowed to go on the field to witness my dad's one pitch(a strike).
My son barely one  at the time swears that he still remembers that moment at his first game.
His second big league game was again an opportunity to go the the field at Shea Stadium and meet the Mets and do a clinic .Courtesy of his aunt and uncle both Mets fans .
Since that Reds game in 2001 me and the boy have been to around 100 games.Major League ,minor league ,college,high school,little league. We watch games on TV and replays of games.Last month in his first "real" game ever he struck out in his first at bat to lead off for his team.He got on base later on a walk . Then later in the game he was brought in to pitch as the closer .With the bases loaded he struck a guy out to end the inning . I think I held my breath the whole time he was on the mound.
His next outing he walked the first five batters and decided he likes being a catcher more.
As a hitter after a series of walks and strike outs he was still loving baseball .I was right there with him .
Last week in his fourth game of the season he got two hits .His first hits ever in a real game .
I know that this is his journey as a baseball player I can enjoy the ride even knowing it is his ride.
I know he has other interests(skiing,music,acting) .Just as my daughter is not about gymnastics anymore or all things unfamiliar to me (music,boys,snowboarding)..
As I sit here watching the raindrops fall on our deck my boy laments his game being rained out .
He quickly recovers from his rain out scenario and heads out catch a movie with his mom .
And he discovers the basic philosophy of the game.
 As Nuke Laloosh said in Bull Durham, " A friend of mine once told me: throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball, some days you win , some days you lose , some days it rains".

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