Major League Baseball spring training started today. I sat on my porch, listening to a radio. And I was cheering. I mean genuinely cheering.
The Atlanta Braves play the Tampa Bay Rays. The national anthem was played. The umpire used his time-ravaged voice to shout, “Play ball!” I couldn’t help but get excited because it’s been a long year. Too long.
I closed my eyes and visualized the players trotting onto the grass of LECOM Park, greeted by their fans. I could almost see the Dads drinking beer, kids eating nachos, and teenagers taking selfies.
In the theater of my mind the game played beautifully. I could even visualize the occasional kid leaning over the balcony to catch a foul ball—which is one of the great moments of boyhood.
I almost caught a foul-tip once in Fulton County Stadium as a boy. I’ll never forget it. The ball came soaring into the stands and I knew this was my moment. Time slowed down. The eyes of 52,000 were upon me. I stood beneath the ball.
I waved everyone else away.
“I got it!” I shouted. “Gimme room! I got it!”
This was going to be the biggest day of my life. I extended my Mickey Mantle model glove into the air—a mitt my father bought from a yardsale for $1. The ball came down, down, down... “Hey!” I thought, “I’m actually going to catch it!”
But it was not to be.
The ball bounced off the webbing of my glove and landed in the lap of a kid behind me. I heard the lucky bum scream with delight. “I caught it!”
I saw the kid leap. I heard people cheer. The crowd hoisted the kid onto their shoulders for a spontaneous ticker tape parade and the mayor gave him the key to the city.
I still have nightmares about that kid.
Baseball’s spell over me is something I can’t explain.…