This a three-part series on how I’ve come to recapture my love for America’s favorite pastime.
These are the names that make up some of the earliest memories I have for baseball. Unfortunately, my memories are scattered and it’s hard to put my most vivid memories into a good chronological order. That’s the nature of memory though. The best ones seem like yesterday and recalling the rest is like chasing fireflies at dusk. I hope you enjoy chasing fireflies with me.
I’m a New York Yankees fan. I should get that out in the open since it can be such a polarizing topic. So you may be wondering why a Yankees fan’s earliest memories involve the Atlanta Braves. Because they were the icons for his favorite team. Who is he? My friend, Josue.
Josue and I grew up for a time in the outer suburbs of Washington, DC. We were poor kids in an up and coming suburb (if not at the time, soon to be) surrounded by tech companies, defense contractors, and government security personnel who could no longer afford to live closer to DC. We didn’t have the Nats around then but it wasn’t likely that our parents could have afforded to take us to a game anyway. In our youthful rebellion against the growing wealth around us, we took to swiping things. Baseball cards from 7-Eleven were pretty easy pickings. I’m not proud of it but we didn’t have much nor much else to do. Especially in the summers between school years.
I did get to see a game in Camden Yards a year or two after it had opened though. Because the Orioles were in the AL East with the Yankees, I could see them play regularly. It was a summer day in June of ‘93 and my dad got tickets for his company’s box seats. I had an Upper Deck baseball card featuring Wade Boggs that I adored. He looked amazing mid-swing and he was one of the better players in my collection. When we got to the game, I saw that Wade Boggs was playing for New York Yankees that year. I was so excited to see him play in the flesh and to top it off, the Yankees won that day. It may have been the moment that cemented my love for the New York Yankees to this day.
We got to see a lot Braves games aired on TV as well. I think it may have been that the Braves were the only NL East team that was not a rival city to DC like Philly or New York. It also never really mattered to me. I think seeing such a great team like the Braves of the early 90s on TV may be why Josue was a huge fan.
Baseball has a way of sparking the imagination like no other sport. Why? Ghost runners. You can’t make believe a 40 yard throw to your number one wide receiver. However, you can move that runner on second to third after hitting a short hopper over the guy playing shortstop. Without make-believe, you can’t play a game with less than four to a side. So when you have to bike a few miles from your house to find people who want to play, coordinating schedules and parental permission is a soul-draining exercise in futility. Fortunately, imagination could fill that role.
We used that imagination as we stepped up to the plate, threw our ‘fastballs’ and ‘sliders’, or made diving catches to stop short hops.
“Here’s Nolan Ryan going in his wind up.” I would yell out.
“David Justice looking to hit this one into the upper deck!” He’d yell back.
This back and forth never stopped. Sometimes, Josue would go back and forth between his favorite players. After a while, he’d always settle on…
“Okay! Terry Pendleton coming to the plate hitting switch.”
It’s not like he hit better left-handed or that I had the sort of control over the strike zone to make that kind of difference. We did it because that’s what the stars in our lives did. It gave us a freedom from the restrictions imposed upon us by reality.
I read an article about how kids don’t wander around nearly as far as they did when I was a child. Strangely enough, I never thought I traveled far on my Huffy mountain bike until I mapped it on Google decades later. Sure enough, I generally strayed about three to five miles from my home almost daily to play with my friends. Then I looked at some of the other places that fell into this radius from my home that I never visited. Major highways blocking them all. I may have seemed an intrepid adolescent explorer but I wasn’t a dummy.
But this is what you did so you could have the privacy of living in your fantasy world. We didn’t have many of the things our neighbors took for granted. We didn’t think we were poor because we were doing things away from the judgmental look of exhausted parents. Parents who wanted us to dream but somehow keep it grounded.
I never played organized baseball. Josue did for a while but his parents could no longer make the time to drive him to the nearest team so he could play. We eventually played soccer together and our parents helped each other by carpooling to practice regularly. We played teams from areas with large Hispanic communities and I think that’s when Josue began to identify more strongly with his Mexican heritage. During the buildup to the ‘94 World Cup in the US, he wanted to be Jorge Campos. Now that I look back on it, we may have both been poor but he didn’t think he had the book smarts to succeed. So he looked for heroes where he could.
But no matter how long we practiced penalty shots and dribbling exercises, we always took some time to play some baseball…