SUMMER MEANS BASEBALL! by David D. Horowitz
Writing It Real member David D. Horowitz offers his memories of playing softball and baseball as a child. We learn and remember that even our best memories can be tinged by the experience of difficult situations. Whether your own memories of particualr summers are happy ones or upsetting and disappointing ones, I hope you will take this opportunity to write about them; then click on contact me to send the writing in for posting.
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SUMMER MEANS BASEBALL!
by David D. Horowitz
As a boy in University City, a suburb of Saint Louis, I played endless hours of softball and corkball with my friends at Heman Park and on Jackson Park Elementary School’s playground in humid ninety-degree heat. Then we’d dash home to prepare for our team’s baseball practice or head off for an ice cream cone or a bottle of soda at one of our favorite ice cream parlors. It was glorious fun, and we didn’t have school the next day or a job for which we had to wake at 6 a.m.
Baseball in the Saint Louis area is not merely a sport. It is an integral part of the culture. Friendships, romances, family ties, and lifelong loyalties form and evolve through commitment to the game. And I cried and laughed with the best of them, devastated by striking out, elated by getting three hits in one game, terrified by one particularly wild pitcher firing professional-level fastballs at my shaky legs. In one game, he hit three batters in a row with blazing fastballs. I was due up next. I closed my eyes, praying I wouldn’t face him. Miraculously, his manager was walking toward the pitching mound when I opened my eyes, and the pitcher was indeed replaced by a softer thrower. Thank the Lord, I thought, laughing to myself. This might qualify as a religious experience!
Commitment to baseball, though, entails downs as well as ups. These include being hit by many a fastball and line drive—in the neck, head, right ankle, left shin. Ouch!! And there were the religious and racial tensions in our leagues: Catholic teams, Jewish teams, black teams, white teams. There were on-the-field fights after collisions at home plate, and there were damaged friendships, such as when a black player and a white player, who had been friends and were on my team, after a game screamed expletives and insults at each other for fifteen minutes.
And there was the time, at baseball camp in northeast Missouri, when a big, awkward right fielder collided with our small second baseman, as both ran at full speed to catch a little pop fly in shallow right. Horrible! The second baseman went into convulsions. His face turned purplish red, as he lay on the ground trying to swallow his tongue. Dick, our coach that game, held the second baseman’s tongue and calmed him and helped him to breathe again. Dick might well have saved his life. After all, we were in rural Missouri, where ambulances are not readily available. About twenty minutes after it was requested, an ambulance arrived, and the second baseman was taken to the closest hospital for observation. We learned the next day he was all right. Yes, baseball is dangerous.
And baseball is difficult. I wasn’t good enough to compete effectively after tenth grade, and, when my mother and I moved to Seattle in 1971, my playing days were over. I wanted to focus on academic achievement, and the racial tension I’d recently experienced diminished my enthusiasm for team participation. I think fondly of baseball, though, to this day. I was ecstatic when my favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series in 2016, and I still check their box score each day they play. Rooting for the Cubs taught me patience, and baseball taught me you win some, you lose some.
So, summer, like baseball, has good and not-so-good sides. Here is a little summer poem:
Blue gold noons, picnic table lunches, clouds like wisps
Afloat—and gnats, mosquitos, water bugs, and wasps!