There we are, the Boys of Summer. 1959. Hiram "F" League team in the Hot Stove League. Portage County. (I'm third from the left in the back row.)
We were a pretty good team--that bunch. I don't remember our record, but I know we won much more than we lost. And I was wearing the first "real" baseball uniform of my life. The previous year we'd had only caps and T-shirts. But some money had come from somewhere (communities can always find funds for sports--Hudson, where I live, just came up with $5.5 million for a high school football stadium). And so I got to dirty a real uniform, back there behind the plate, catching. Putting on those uniforms on game days provoked a thrill of an almost sexual character. (I know: TMI.) I felt, somehow, that I was adding not just clothing--a uniform--but years and dignity and significance, as well. I am on a team! I have a uniform! I matter! Running around the bases, I sometimes looked down at myself--at my uniform--as if watching myself on television.
In those days I could have not been more certain that I would one day play in the major leagues. A dream of such poignant innocence. A dream of madness. I look at that boy in that picture, staring resolutely into his starry future, and I don't have the heart to tell him will happen--not just to him but to his teammates.
I honestly don't know what I think about all of this. Would it have been better if I'd never played? If my father had told me that my talent was tiny? Is it better that our children find out--on their own, later--that some of their most cherished ambitions are nothing but wispy, evanescent shapes fashioned by hope?
I guess it's enough that--at the time--we love what we're doing. My parents, to their great credit, never told me I was a fool. They let me have my fun, let me dream on and on and on about a future that could not possibly ever arrive. Maybe they figured it's better that way, finding out on your own. Perhaps they believed that when one dream erupts in flame, another, more realistic one, arises from the ashes? Maybe they just plain didn't have the heart to tell me. And I wouldn't have believed them if they had.
There are times when I think that my boyhood sports mania severely delayed my development in other ways. I think of the books not read, the other talents--whatever they were and to whatever degree I possessed them--not realized.
And there are other times when I am grateful for those times, those friendships, those memories.
But I know this, too: I benefitted, all throughout my school years, because my talents, such as they were, were athletic. Picture in the paper. Letter sweater. Trophies on the shelf. Awards and banquets and pep rallies. Teachers who understood when my work wasn't done quite so well (or not at all)--Hey, I had a game last night!
And I think about my classmates, some far, far more talented than I in other areas, whom the school pretty much ignored, except for perfunctory awards assemblies at the end of the year.
What are the results of all of this? The consequences?
More tomorrow ...
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