The Early Years

My earliest baseball memory is my Dad taking me to a Dodgers game at Ebbets Field.  I was five, maybe six years old.  I don’t remember who ‘De Bums’ played but it was a night game and one of them hit a homer.  I think it might have been Campy.

Now my father is ninety-two and still going strong.  Earlier this year, I took him to see a game at the new Marlins ballpark.  It was a day game against the Cubs and the retractable roof in their sparkling, state-of-the-art domed stadium was in the closed position.  The lime green outfield walls seemed to pulse along with the raucous music that reverberated throughout the massive enclosed space.  As we took our seats, about twenty rows from the field, we caught a glimpse of the giant tropical aquariums that make up the backstop behind home plate.

“A lot different from Ebbets Field,” my Dad observed, in a classic bit of understatement.

Ebbets Field?  Marlins Stadium?  Different worlds, different eras.  But the baseball diamond, the bases separated by ninety feet, the mound sixty feet, six inches from the plate, they were the same.  Many things change, some things don’t.

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While my love of baseball developed early on, I wasn’t much of an athlete as a kid.  It wasn’t from lack of trying.  I just wasn’t very good.  From the ages of seven through nine, the most important day of the year for me was the day they held tryouts for Little League. In my neighborhood tryouts were a BIG DEAL.  I dreamed about that day all winter long.  Dreams of grandeur that were more often than not laced with fear of failure.  Not that there was ever a worry about not making a team because everyone made a teamWhat really mattered, though, was what division you were assigned to.  That made all the difference.  At the top of the pyramid was the Majors, where the most talented kids played.  Not as proficient up-and-comers were assigned to the Minors.  Then there was the Farm Team – where everyone else played.

It was the mid-Fifties and we lived on Long Island.  The couple of streets that comprised my neighborhood were filled with kids (we didn’t know it at the time but we were the baby-boomers).  From early Spring through early Winter we played outside.  Lots of different games, from potsie to war.  But mostly we played baseball.   It was the sport that commanded our highest respect.

Sadly for me, I never performed well on the all-important tryouts day.  I never made it off the Farm Team, although in my last year of Little League I was assigned to an “elite” team in that division.  That year I was the best hitter on the team and there was talk of moving me up to the Minors.  At last!  But in a cruel stroke of fate, the coach moved our practices to a field far enough away that my mother had to drive me.  We, like everyone else in the neighborhood, were a one car family and when she was unsuccessful in working out a carpool arrangement, my baseball career came to an abrupt end.  In retrospect, not such a bad ending.  For the rest of my life I’ve been able to harbor the notion, “Just when I was getting going!”

What are your memories of Little League tryout day?

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