I've begun reading Michael Chabon's 2002 novel Summerland, which I am enjoying far more than I guess I thought I would. Classified as a YA novel, it's really got a broader appeal (and some of the diction and sentence structure and humor seem, well, perhaps a bit above the YA category?).
It' a baseball-fantasy novel, and I began relating to it almost immediately. Although I am not what you'd call a Fantasy Freak, I have read many of the most celebrated titles--from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings (Summerland has patent connections to both), to Arthurian legends (ditto), to The Chronicles of Narnia and the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander--and, of course, the Harry Potter novels.
So ... the fantasy appeal snagged me--but not so firmly as did the baseball appeal. I loved to play baseball when I was a boy--loved it completely through elementary school, junior high, high school--until I got to American Legion ball when I discovered (as most of us do at one time or another) that I had reached my limit.
Summerland is about an 11-year-old boy, Ethan Feld, who's the worst player on his team. Strikes out at key moments. Makes multiple errors.
But then ... visitors from another dimension arrive. One tells him he looks like a catcher. The very word catches Ethan emotionally somehow, and when his dad (a recent widower) tells him he has an old catcher's mitt in the garage in an old box, Ethan goes to try it on. Listen in ...
... when he put on his father's old catcher's mitt, his fingers slid into the proper slots without any trouble at all. Ethan raised his left hand and gave the mitt a few exploratory flexes, pinching his fingers toward his thumb. It was heavy, much heavier than his fielder's glove, but somehow balanced, weighing no more on one part of his hand than on any other. Ethan felt a shiver run through him ... (71).
I was a catcher--and became one, initially, through a ... well ... through a ... lie.
The first summer we moved to Hiram, Ohio, I was not yet 12. I had played baseball back in Enid, Okla., but out in the field somewhere, where I did little to distinguish myself. Anyway, that first summer (1956), Hiram had no summer team for boys, but that next summer, my dad and some other parents had gotten Hiram hooked up with the Portage County Hot Stove League. I was in "F League" (no--do not think of school grades! it had to do with age!); my little brother, in the "G."
And at our first practice, our coach (who was it?) asked, "Anyone know how to play catcher?"
That was the sound of my (lying) voice. I'd never tried it. Did not even know how to don the equipment (the "tools of ignorance" as someone once labeled them).
But here's what I found out. I could do it! And pretty soon I could do it pretty well! And soon I thought of myself as the second coming of Yogi Berra, the Yankees' catcher, my hero. (Obviously, I wasn't--as I would later learn.)
My dad bought me my first catcher's mitt, and I can see that thing right now! Almost golden in color (of course!) and bearing the engraving of the name of a player I'd never heard of: Bob Scheffing. There was no Internet then--no Google search window--so I drifted along in ignorance for a while.
Now, of course, it's easy to find out stuff about him.
And his full Major League record you can find by following this link. He began with the Cubs in 1941; left for WW II; returned a few years later; played some more; moved to different teams; last year--1951. He then managed a bit. Died in 1985.
I'm just now getting on eBay to see if I can find that glove for sale--not that I'd buy it, mind you. But just to see ...
PAUSE TO SEARCH.
And there it is ... a mere $89.95 ... Amazing.
I am not tempted to buy it. I'm already timid about catching the pitches of my grandson Logan, who's just 12. But I have to tell you ... there are tears in my eyes ... right now.
Thanks so much, Michael Chabon!