Baseball was my first love in sports, though I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps because big brother Bill loved it. Perhaps because the kids in our neighborhood played baseball in the street all summer long. Perhaps because we lived a short distance from Sicks Stadium home of the Seattle Rainiers and could hear the roars when Al Lyons hit another home run.
I used to skip lunch in the 1st and 2nd grade to buy bubblegum cards, and my brother and I scrounged bottle caps so we could get into Sicks Stadium for free as part of the Knothole Gang. When we couldn’t afford the game, most of the time, we’d listen to the play-by-play on the radio while listening for distant roars.
Fifty years later I still remember the names of favorite players. Though Sammy White was a personal favorite because both he and I played catcher, my real hero was Al Lyons. He hit a club-high 23 homeruns, but I suspect it was really his name that captured my heart. Al was my father’s name, of course, but Lion seemed the perfect name for a brave-hearted baseball hero.
I was thrilled when dad brought home a mitt he bought at a pawnshop. The old-fashioned mitt had little padding and no webbing to speak of, but I spent hours rubbing it with saddle soap. I used to pretend that the name indelibly imprinted on the strap was the name of a famous ballplayer, though I probably realized even then that it was really the name of some poor down-and-outter forced to abandon his dreams of becoming a big-leaguer. Even after I replaced that glove with a modern third-baseman’s glove with lots of webbing, I kept it and ended up using it to play softball many years later in the army. In fact, I kept that glove until we moved last year, knowing for years that no one but me would ever want to use it again.
I’m not sure when I first lost interest in playing baseball, though I know it was after we moved to California. Perhaps because my older brother went off to high school and seldom played with me anymore. Perhaps because no one played baseball in the streets, and I was forced to join Little League in order to play and I resented some adult telling me that I needed to change my hitting style or that I was too slow to play third base. Perhaps because I could never switch my allegiance from my beloved Rainiers to the Giants, no matter how far we’d moved away. Perhaps just because I got hit in the head once too often with a fastball and decided I had more future as the smartest kid in class than as the kid brother who wasn’t smart enough to get out of the way of an inside fastball.
Younger, I collected heroes,
Robinson, DiMaggio, Williams
Now I re-collect distant memories.