The first ‘sport’ I ever played was kickball. I was nine and it was during recess. I didn’t want to play. I wasn’t interested in playing sports of any kind, but some friends needed one more person to fill out their team, so I, reluctantly, said I would play. I may be wrong, but up to that point in my life I’m not even sure I had ever caught or thrown a ball, and if I had it was probably with little success.

I didn’t know the rules of kickball, which made me even more reluctant to play.

“It’s just like baseball, but without a bat and you kick the ball,” one of the other kids had said. Yeah, okay. I could do that. I thought.

UnknownTurns out, I could. The very first person to kick the ball for the opposing team kicked it right at me. There was no getting out of the way. I would either catch the ball or be struck by it. Somehow—don’t ask me how—the ball hit me right in the stomach. I cradled it in my arms, lessoning the impact. I had caught it. I was kind of dumbfounded. I was like Scotty Smalls in the movie Sandlot when he caught the ball that Bennie the Jet had hit to him in the outfield during a practice.

After staring at the ball like it had done something magnificent for me, I tossed it back to the pitcher and got ready for the next ‘at bat.’ That started me on the road to loving sports and playing as many of them as I possibly could. Baseball was the first of the sports that followed.

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I played my first baseball game at the same school I played my first kickball game: Claude A. Taylor Elementary. If you stood facing the school at the front of the building you would need to look slightly to your left toward the playground. There was a tennis and basketball court beyond it, a walking track slightly further away, and in the far corner near the back fence was the baseball field. It wasn’t much of a field. There was no fence to separate the outfield from the rest of the playground, no dugouts (though there were two wooden benches, one each on the first and third base sides. Surrounding home plate was what amounted to a batting cage, painted black with a cyclone fence ‘netting.’ The bases weren’t much more than hard pillows on the ground.

We were allowed to use the wooden bats and tennis balls from the utility building near the tennis court. There were usually only a couple of kids in the infield to go along with the pitcher. The guy catching the ball was usually on the same team as the batter. There were always three or four guys in the outfield since a tennis ball—especially a new one—would fly forever.

It was one of the very few times I could hit a ball and it would do something more than be a shallow fly out or a ground out.

DSCN3016Though we only played there when the physical education teacher allowed it, we had a ton of fun. That eventually led me to ask my dad if I could play the real game. The real game consisted of a glove, bat, baseball and cleats. I mentioned I wanted to play baseball when I was ten. Knowing we couldn’t afford the equipment, I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to play ‘real baseball.’

Then one day my dad asked if I wanted to go to the flea market. Absolutely, I did. I would do just about anything to spend time with him. We browsed the tables, me not really looking at anything, trying not to get my hopes up if I saw a toy I wanted. We stopped at this one table and Dad talked to the guy behind it. I really didn’t pay attention to what item Dad was bargaining for.

“How much for this one?” Dad asked.

“Two dollars,” the guy responded.

Dad pulled the money from his pocket and gave it to the guy. Then he handed me the first ball and glove I ever owned. I was over the moon ecstatic. Two dollars when I was ten was a lot of money and my dad had spent that two bucks on me, to get me a used baseball glove and a baseball.

I would play baseball, though not for long—I wasn’t much of a hitter, after all. I still tossed the ball around and I still tried to hit better and better each time we played pick-up games after that. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t any good. What mattered is I loved playing and I had fun and I could grab my glove off my bed or the floor or the dresser and run and go play with my friends anytime I wanted to because my dad had parted ways with two dollars so I would be happy.

The baseball is long gone. I still have the glove. It is now probably fifty or so years old.

Now you know where all of this love for baseball fields started.

DSCN3018I went back to Claude A. Taylor not too long ago. I walked through the playground where we played kickball. I walked all the way to the back corner where the baseball field used to be. The batting cage is still there, though the cyclone fence ‘netting’ is gone. The two benches on either side of first and third base are still there. There is no home plate, no bases. The utility building is gone. The tennis court is still there, though there is no net and no basketball hoops. Still, as I stood near where third base should have been, I could almost hear the sounds from my childhood. It was glorious.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

7/19/2017

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