I grew up loving the game of baseball. Living only four blocks from Yankee Stadium I saw a lot of baseball played by great baseball players. My favorite Yankee was Mickey Mantle. What a great baseball name, kind of like Roy Hobbs of the Natural movie. Back in the 1950’s the bleacher seats cost only twenty- five cents but growing up in the South Bronx usually meant poor. No one had twenty-five cents. My friends and I would get the quarter by rounding up quart beer bottles from garbage cans in the alleys of bars along Third Ave and empty them of the roaches which were the size of Buicks and turn them over to local stores for the nickel deposit. Certain Sundays were designated Fathers day and their kids got in free so we would walk in next to a man, any man and act natural like we were his kid…it worked every time. When inside the stadium we’d watch the game for a while but we’d get hungry and we would run around snatching food from the vendors when they weren’t looking but when the man on the PA would announce, Now coming to the plate number 7, Mickey Mantle. Everyone would stop and watch hoping for that loud crack of the bat associated with one of his long balls. He hit some monumental home runs. As I got older I learned about the Mick and his personal problems but as a kid growing up I was not exposed to any of that… it was the player not the man we cared about.
Professional baseball has changed since then. People don’t follow the game like they used to. I’m not going to get into the philosophy or the reasons why except to say the word Lawyers. Teams were just that…teams. Young players came up the ranks through a minor league farm system associated with that team and if they made the cut they would advance to the pros and usually stayed with that team for most of their careers.
When I lived in New Jersey my friends and I played a lot of baseball. We did the organized route through little league, Babe Ruth League, and high school but the love of the game came on those hot summer days on a crummy field with baseballs that had the covers pounded off them and then wrapped in black electrical tape and bats which were too big or too small. I remember one of our bats being a fungo bat. You really learn the game when you come to bat fifty times a day. We didn’t wait for balls or strikes, just a decent pitch to put the ball into play.We would break after a few games and pool our loose change together and some of the guys would make a snack run to Leuchaus’ corner store to buy half-gallon size soda and Ring Dings then we would duke up new sides and play until it got too dark to see the ball.
Since I’ve gotten older I miss playing baseball the most. I’ve played on some of the softball leagues for older guys but the intensity is not the same. I tire easily and Jeez, my body aches long after the games are done. All my sons tried baseball for a while and I enjoyed watching them play. My second born, Dylan, loved the game as I did and had his heroes too like Steve Garvey who played for the Dodgers. Dylan played many sports through high school like basketball and football and played them well. Ah, but baseball was his best. I thought so anyway and he was a pure joy to watch. He had a fluid, fast, swing like Vaughn Hayes of the Phillies or Darryl Strawberryof the Mets. If anyone is familiar with them you know what I mean. Dylan was tall and lanky and chose to pursue basketball and football in high school and was very good at them and I attended every game I could…but god I loved watching him play baseball.
My grandson Myles already shows a lot of dexterity and he appears to be getting his Dad’s height. Hey…who knows the next Mantle might be amongst us. Even if he isn’t I’ll love to watch anything he chooses to do…yes even ballet.