For the Love of the Game

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Last year, when the world shut down because of the pandemic, and professional sports pivoted with cut-out spectators, playing in hubs and other necessary measures, I decided to take the year off from paying any attention. I ignored the baseball standings, didn’t watch any games, and did my best to pretend sports did not exist in 2020. It seemed the healthier approach.

It was not a difficult decision. The world was topsy turvy (for too many, it still is), so caring about who led the American League east division, or how the Celtics were doing playing in a “bubble,” did not seem to be something worth dwelling upon. Not that I was ever much of a sports fanatic. I am long past the point of spending several hours watching a football game on television on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and only tune in to baseball when my beloved Red Sox make the playoffs. And the Sox were miserable last year.

The sports sabbatical was broken in February, when Tom Brady led Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl, his tenth appearance, and walked away with his seventh championship win. I couldn’t resist watching the GOAT, even if he no longer played for my preferred franchise, the New England Patriots. I have been a Patriots fan since a child growing up in New Hampshire. My godparent’s son was the team physician in the 1960s and occasionally bestowed swag on me, such as autographed photos of my favorite players — Gino Cappelletti, Jim Nance and others.

My first love remains baseball. I check the game results in the paper every morning to see how the Red Sox did, peruse the team’s website daily. This is the game I grew up playing from the time I could walk. For hours, once the snow finally melted, I would toss a ball up on the neighbor’s barn roof and catch it when it rolled off. The neighborhood kids, both boys and girls, would gather in a nearby vacant lot and strike up a sandlot game.

After chemist Norman Stingley invented the Super Ball in 1964, and it went to market the following year, I saved up my snow-shoveling money and bought one for what Wikipedia tells me cost 98¢. I could bounce that Super Ball off the driveway and send it flying high into the air, allowing me to practice catching outfield fly balls.

Our town was so small that its youth baseball league grouped all the kids together to form at most four teams, with ages ranging from six years to teenagers. I joined a team at age six and patiently rode the bench the entire season. Finally, in the last game of the season, the coach allowed me to pinch-hit. (There were no rules about playing everybody back then.) I stood close to the plate, squinting at the pitcher, since nobody had yet figured out that I was terribly near-sighted. In every photo of me at that age, I’m squinting at the camera.

The pitcher promptly plunked me in the side. I happily took my base, where I was stranded as the inning ended. I played in right field for a half-inning, relieved nothing came my way.


When we moved to Texas, I was almost 13 and the following summer began playing Dixie League baseball in the parks on Timpson Street in South Longview, which is where we lived. I now wore glasses and had become a decent ballplayer, relegated to the outfield because I was left-handed and thus not picked for the infield. (The only infield position lefties generally get to play is first base, and I was too short for that.) My finest moment came in a playoff game, when I got on base, stole second, was advanced to third and then stole home to win the game. It was my first and only athletic triumph.

I quit playing baseball when I could legally drive and make money working at the paper. But my love for the game continues a half-century later. As of early June, the Red Sox are hovering near first place in their division. I harbor dreams of returning to Fenway this season, but I’m still reluctant to fly. Maybe next year.

That’s something we Red Sox fans have gotten used to saying. Maybe next year.

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