July 14, 2024

The Baseball Kid

In the year 2008, I bought a house directly across from what was then the high school in our town.

The window of my home office overlooked the ball field. One March morning not long after moving in, I heard a familiar sound through my open window that jogged memories for me.

It was the ping! of a baseball against a metal bat.

The noise repeated, ping! ping! The players were at practice and the pleasant sound… I’ll call it bat music, took me back.

I’m a baseball sister. Not a player. I never was good at sports, always one of the last to be picked for teams and I dreaded gym class at school.

But from about 1984 to 1987, I got to live vicariously through my brother Bob, the baseball kid of our family.

It wasn’t about me, it was his well-deserved athletic glory. But my connection to it as the supportive sister made it just as special as if it were my own.

Baseball was always a part of our family life even if I couldn’t catch. I could hit, my dad made sure to tell me… so I knew I was decent at something sports related. Our dad was good that way.

Another sound I have fond memories of: the noise the baseball makes when it hits the leather glove. SMACK.

My dad worked in New York City, drove a long commute and got home at 7:00 p.m. But even so, on the cool spring evenings as the sun was getting low in the sky, he always made himself available to have a catch with my brother.

They tried to get me in on this, and I was willing though not entirely able, until the one day that the ball landed on my nose and I officially gave up my baseball career.

But that never stopped me from thoroughly enjoying and reveling in my brother’s baseball victories, and there were many.

My bro was 4 years younger than me… small, wiry with ribs sticking out and he could streak a blur around those bases.

So he was often subbed in as a pinch runner for some of the brawnier kids on his team who could hit.

I used to go to his Little League games… it was always hard for me to focus, and I always felt like I was the last to know what was going on which probably is still the case.

But still I learned a lot about baseball and how the sport works. I never tired of standing with my nose close to the chain link fence, cheering for my brother and his baseball buddies… looking on eagerly and hoping they would take the win against our local neighboring teams.

The best baseball times were when my bro got chosen to be on the All-Stars team. These were wildly exciting games with the best players in the area going up against each other.

The boys were maybe age 10 through 12 at the time. I remember there was definitely a lot of action, some drama and some antics from the parents in the stands who would get a little too heated on Friday nights.

I can recall specific things that happened, like the time one of my brother’s teammates took a ball to the face and trudged away from the plate, roughly wiping the tears from his eyes. My motherly instincts took over in that moment and I wanted to run after him but of course I did not.

I remember the two biggest boys on the team always getting up to bat when the bases were loaded, Chris Pugsley and Brian Smith… everyone would expect them to hit home runs and they more often than not would deliver.

There was another pipsqueak on my brother’s team, Blaise Rohan, the youngest of a big family and he was named after Saint Blaise, we were told. “Blaze” was also a pretty cool name for a kid who could zip around those bases like a small flame.

His granddad (?) was one of the coaches, a good-natured older guy with a gravelly voice. I always remembered all the things he yelled at every practice and game…

“Rock and fire, baby,” and “Throw strikes, son,” to Chris or John Larkin or whomever was pitching.

Sometimes kids on the opposing team would jeer instead of cheer, yelling things like “We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher!” And I would be so indignant, how dare they yell at our wonderful players!

I remember that my little bro always got the glory, stepping in for the big hitters who would smash the ball and then my brother would fly around the bases to bring three guys and himself home. My dad always giving him a hearty clap on the back and telling him how proud he was.

My dad was always part of the games. Not one of the main coaches but an avid supporter, always with a ball and glove ready to help with the warm up… or with shirt sleeves rolled up after a long day of working on Wall Street to give my brother some batting practice firing a baseball into a lawn chair over and over.

Something that always stayed with me about how my dad coached my brother, and me to some extent, was his attention to detail. He was all about form, technique, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

I remember very clearly learning the proper stance for holding the bat at home plate. Feet hip-width apart, knees bent, bouncing slightly on the balls of the feet, turned at the waist to face the pitcher, bat held high.

He taught me to watch the ball and wait for it, and to follow through with the swing. I could be standing at home plate today and still hear my dad telling me what to do… including turning your wrists over after making contact with the ball (which I never did quite master the mechanics of).

One year my dad even joined the parents’ league, playing baseball at Liberty Oak Park, and that was exciting, too.

Being out after dark with the big lights streaming down and the sounds of crickets and bug zappers… the clink of those metal bats while my old man trotted his beer belly around the bases.

The baseball times were good times in our family. It will always stay with me that my dad took time out of his busy days to help my brother perfect his athletic talent.

He was patient, he took the time to go step by step by step through the motions. He knew that it would take repetitive practice for my brother to get where he wanted to be with his baseball skills.

He was there putting time in every day that he possibly could. And he was always encouraging to me as well, even despite my lack thereof.

For a few years, I had a baseball kid myself.

My son played Little League in kindergarten, first, second… and then he decided in third he did not want to continue. After experimenting with soccer he concluded that sports are just not his thing, and I totally get it.

When my son played ball though, it took me right back to my brother’s games, back to standing up against the fence, wiggling in excitement when one of our players tagged a guy out at home plate.

Feeling that surge of pride as my boy rounded the bases and stomped his foot against home plate to even the score.

I got to relive my memories of being a good hitter as I watched my boy doing the same.

My son played for a few years. It’s not his thing just as it was not mine… and that is okay. If he ever wanted to play ball again I would support it, but I will never force him.

These days, my baseball brother is all grown up with two sporty little girls of his own… and they are into their share of activities like dance and soccer.

I don’t know if they will be softball girls, but I do know that if my brother is the one teaching them this or any sport, they will be in excellent hands.

I felt the need to write this after the weirdness that has been quarantine the last few years… thinking often of the carefree times of my youth, back when you could just play ball, or actually be somewhere and not be attached to technology with someone or something bugging the crap out of you at every moment.

And when that John Fogerty song comes on the radio, I hear those old familiar lyrics…

“Put me in, Coach. I’m ready to play today… look at me, I can be centerfield.”

…and my heart always swells with memories of the good old baseball days… my All-Star little bro, who was truly a star in my eyes… and my dear old dad, who taught us everything we know about how to play ball.

Dina Gio works as a freelance writer, website maker and internet marketer. Contact her via the contact page up top for your next project today.