I’m eighty-one but I can feel like I’m fifteen when I’m talking baseball. It brings you back.
—Buck O’Neil, Kansas City Monarchs, Negro Leagues
The ball explodes from the pitcher’s hand like a bullet, but it’s high and inside. “BALL!” the umpire yells, and the batter takes his base. The Bulls have two men on with no outs, bottom of the seventh. Neither team has scored a run. I sit near the visitors’ bullpen, watching the drama unfold. The pitcher on the mound has been throwing the proverbial smoke up until now. He’s given up two walks in a row, and if he gives up a third he’ll load the bases with our designated hitter coming up.
The visiting team’s relief pitcher starts stretching in the bullpen. A gangly Latino fellow, he rotates his arm in big circles and begins to throw. Slow at first, then faster, harder, until the ball disappears the moment it leaves his hand, only to reappear less than a second later in the catcher’s mitt. For anyone who’s ever played baseball, the ballpark is a time machine: the green of the grass, the crack of the bat, the pow the ball makes when it hits the glove all release memories buried by the daily grind called life. The ballpark allows us to live multiple places at once: at the game we watch and at the games played on the sandlots, backyards, parks, and school diamonds of our yesterdays. Each ticket is also a ticket to ride one’s personal baseball memory train.
I’m standing in my grandmother’s backyard, pitching distance from her tool shed. My Houston Astros cap pulled low, head down, holding the ball in my glove, I check my finger placement for my fastball. I am J. R. Richard and I can throw a hundred miles per hour. Really, I am Howard Craft, twelve years old, most often referred to as June Bug by family and friends. My fastball isn’t a hundred miles per hour, but it’s loud enough to make a bang when it slams into the side of the tool shed. After several of these bangs, the back door of the house opens and my father comes out. He crosses the backyard like an angry manager en route to pull a pitcher after he’s given up a home run in the bottom of the ninth. Read More