Batter Up! Bottom of the Third
Becoming a Player With Game
I wrote the first 2 ½ innings (5 chapters) of this series last year. Then life happened, and I haven’t been writing a whole lot since the top of the third. I really did cover a lot of ground in those first five chapters — but there is so much more ground to cover. Now, baseball is back and I’m back, ready to take my cuts again and get back in the game. Put me in, coach!
Let’s talk about the fulfillment of childhood dreams. I’ve already written about the dream of being inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, that eventually came true. Yes, I am a Hall of Famer — a Hall of Fame storyteller, that is. You’ll need to go back and read the Bottom of the Second to see how that all came about. That is my favorite story of all time — truly Hall of Fame worthy, my Pete Rose Hat story, all about how I beat the all-time hits leader into the Hall!
Another childhood dream I had was to perform on a major league baseball diamond. It’s funny how dreams come true — they might not always happen exactly the way you dreamed them, but their fulfillment is every bit as exciting when they do happen. I performed the singing of the National Anthem on the field at 5 different major league ballgames, each time a true thrill, and I could feel the pride my long gone Dad would have had in me, his youngest son. Indeed, I thought about dear old Dad each time I sang. Dad was a singer in church choirs and choral groups for 61 years of his life. He loved singing the same way I love baseball.
Between the ages of about 7 and 13 or so, the only thing I dreamed of being when I grew up was a ballplayer. I had no other aspirations. Sadly, with very little physical coordination to speak of, it seemed a pretty ridiculous dream for a kid like me to have. But I was gifted with dogged persistence. I worked hard at a number of different sports, mostly baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. I really wanted to play, even if I wasn’t very good. I could just lose myself in a game of just about any sport — but baseball always remained my favorite game to lose myself in. It fired my imagination like no other game ever did.
A big part of my problem was the fact that I was skinny as a rail throughout my childhood — but I was diligent. I learned to withstand lots of physical punishment if it resulted in improvement of my game. I worked really hard at it, and by age 15 or so, I actually began to be a fairly decent player. I became a force to reckon with on a football field. I actually played center on offense where, despite my thin physique, I was willing to put my body between much larger defensive linemen and my own backfield. I’d gotten tough enough to play in the trenches — a real source of pride for me. I still wasn’t good enough to be on the first string, but when I was on the field, I played my heart out. On defense, they usually put me at the outside linebacker position. I never shied away from tackling a big runner, or absorbing the blocks thrown my way while keeping my eye on the ball and making the plays I could make. I still wasn’t that great on a baseball diamond, but that never dimmed my passion for playing. I just loved it!
When I joined the navy at age 18, I filled out, packing on 20 pounds of solid muscle during Boot Camp. I soon discovered that my body could deliver on the field of play like never before. My baseball game steadily improved throughout my navy career. I played on several ship’s and base teams. I learned to apply the physical and mental discipline I’d learned in Boot Camp to the sports I loved, and I got much better at them, as a result. I still wasn’t going to make any major league teams, but I could hold my own with any amateur teams I played on. On my first ship’s team, we had a guy who had played college ball, and he commented to me that I could easily make first squad on most college teams. This was a stunning revelation to me. I finally had some game! I had achieved at least one aspect of my childhood dreams — I was finally a ballplayer!