There I was. Eight years old, standing all alone out in left field, looking to my left towards the grammar school where I would live and breathe, five days a week, for seven years. Turning my head to face straight ahead again, I could see the runner standing on second base. I also noticed our pitcher winding up and hurling the brand new baseball towards home plate. I drew a deep breath as the batter, poised and ready, swung at the pitch and hit it out towards me. I licked my lips, pounded my fist into the glove and ran over towards the fast rolling ball. Bending down, I scooped it up into my mitt, then positioned myself for the throw. Swinging my arm back, I let go of the ball and sent it soaring up into the air towards home plate.
My heart stopped beating. My body tingled all over. The world, for what seemed like eternity, came to a grinding halt. I watched the ball as it left the atmosphere and nearly orbited the earth. Then, as if by magic, it came soaring back to earth and landed in the catcher’s mitt. The whole place grew quiet. Everyone was looking out at me, and for a minute, I felt like I had done something horribly wrong. Why was everyone looking at me? What did I do wrong? I didn’t understand what was going on. It was my first Little League game, after all, so I obviously had an excuse for flubbing up, right? I mean, I was only eight years old. Kids weren’t supposed to play Little League until they were nine years old. I know I was big for my age, but I was still only eight.
The third baseman ran half way out to me, smiling, and hollered, “You don’t have to throw it up so high in the air next time, ok?” He was smiling, along with everyone else. I looked way over past the first base line at my dad. He was also smiling, and clapping his hands, so I figured I had done a good job throwing it all the way to the catcher. The runner on second didn’t get a chance to score, and I had done my job.
I smiled, pounded my fist into my brand new Franklin glove, adjusted my hat, bent down with my hands on my knees and got ready for the next pitch.
My love for baseball was born on that day, on that field, in my home town of Little Falls, Maine. My passion for the sport was born, and with it, the days of summer took on a whole new meaning. Each year, from the early days of May, until the middle of August, I lived and breathed America’s favorite pastime. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and me, somewhere out on the field, with a hat full of my head and a heart full of baseball.
I fell in love with every aspect of the game. From the chalk lines down first and third, to the elevated pitcher’s mound, to learning how to properly fold the stirrup socks of my uniform, to the strap and buckles of the bases, it was all perfect, and it was all mine. Nothing felt quite like it, and nothing propelled me through my childhood as much. The smell of the fresh cut grass, the way the umpire swept off home plate with his little whisk brush, the sound of a fast ball heading towards home plate, the crack of the bat, the chatter of the infield, the roar of the crowd and the blaring of the car horns, it was absolutely perfect.
I had watched my older brother play the game for a few years, and I had watched how good he was at all of it. It all seemed to flow so easily for him, and I dreamed to some day be as good as he was. He was my role model, and without even knowing it, I slipped into his shoes and took off running like the wind around third, heading for home.
I fell in love with the game. I fell in love with the look, the feel, the smells, the sensations, and nothing seemed to make more sense than baseball.
I remember writing my name on that first Franklin glove my dad handed me. “D Lyons”, as bold as it could be, written with a magic marker for all time. My dad quickly showed me how to rub leather conditioner into the glove, tuck a baseball deep into the pocket, then tie a string around it for a couple days, so that the pocket would form it’s shape according to that of a baseball, making it the perfect catching tool. Only thing, I couldn’t wait a couple days until I untied it and pounded the ball into it, probably a thousand times. It felt good, it felt right, it felt just like a baseball glove should feel, and my hand had found a new home inside of it.
On the day when I was handed my first official Little League uniform, I ran upstairs and put it on, then I ran next door to show my friend Buddy. He looked at the back of the uniform and started laughing. I didn’t know why until he told me that it said, “Ada’s Beauty Shop” on the back. The salon had donated to our team, and in return had their name plastered across the back of it in bold letters for advertisement. I had turned into a running, throwing, hitting marquee for the local hair dresser, and I didn’t bat an eye over it, because, after all, all I wanted to do was play baseball, and play I did.
Those years of Little League gave me something that I had been waiting for, but never knew. It enabled me to experience the pure magic of sports. It enabled me to shine like never before, and I absolutely loved every second of it.
I wore that uniform for a season or two, but had to be given a bigger one because I grew as fast as a weed. I could throw harder, run faster and hit farther than most kids in my town, but none of that mattered to me. The thing that mattered most was knowing there was a game to play that night, and until the first pitch of the game, the world stood still. I remember on days when a game was scheduled, and it rained. Those were some of the hardest days to get through as a kid. I loved the game that much. We had a heck of a coach through my Little League years. He taught me the passions of the game, and he taught me how to most of all, have fun with it. Boy, did I ever have some fun.
We won the town championship a few times during my years with the team, and in my final year, I was awarded a bat for the highest average on the team at .565. My coach handed it to me at an awards banquet, and I couldn’t stop smiling for a week. The bat didn’t last long, because I couldn’t just watch it sit there in the corner of my room. It was screaming at me to let it clobber a baseball. I used it the next year while advancing to and playing Pony League ball, and halfway through the season, I cracked the bat on a foul ball. As I walked back to the bench, cradling the bat in my arms, I almost started crying. It was like I had lost my best friend. Taking a deep breath, I grabbed another wooden bat and headed back to the batter’s box.
I lined the next pitch to the fence for a triple. As I stood on third catching my breath, I swore I heard my cracked bat hollering at me from the bench where I had set it down gently on the dirt.
I kept my old friend throughout the summer. It served me well. It helped me to build my love of the game. It represented a passion that I still hold today for the greatest game ever played.