I was eight years old and it was the year that New York Yankees’ pitcher Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series. My dad was in the Air Force, and we were stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. Two things started that year, my lifelong love of the Yankees and the first year I played Little League. In the era of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra, my favorite Yankee was a rather obscure utility infielder named Gil McDougald.
My dad coached our Little League baseball team for two years. We were the Wiesbaden Buffaloes and I pitched and played shortstop. In the two years together, our team lost three games. Years later my dad would tell the same story. “The other teams would see that they were playing us and would forfeit the game rather than have us beat them.” Now I doubt that was true, but for years I believed it. Somewhere, I still have a small felt pennant that says Wiesbaden Little League Champions. A couple of years after our return to the states, my mom passed away and I lived two years with my grandmother. I played Little League for the Vernon Frogs. To the best of my memory we celebrated whenever we got within five runs of winning a game. My Frog years were quite a contrast to the Buffalo years.
There was one constant in those years, my baseball glove. It was an old school, three finger, dark brown leather beauty. My dad had owned it and then passed it on to me. It looked old enough to have been used by Satchel Paige. The leather was soft as a baby’s butt and tough as elephant hide. When I put it on, I knew I could stop any grounder pounded at me by Duke Snyder. I knew my fastball made Bob Feller blush with envy.
Somewhere along the line of life, that baseball glove was lost. I bought others in the years that followed. I rubbed buckets of saddle soap into them. I put a baseball in them, and tightly wrapped a belt around them to make the perfect pocket. No matter how hard I tried, I could never recreate my first glove.
I never played organized baseball after those four years. I still love my Yankees and during baseball season, I always look at the box scores to see how they are doing . There have been good years and bad ones, but I’m always a loyal fan. This year so far, looks good.
Looking back, I know there was something more than baseball in those years. There was something now lost. My mom, my dad and my grandmother are all now long dead. Playing baseball is a fading memory from childhood. I’m retired and have children and grandchildren. I vaguely remember 4th. of July firework shows in Germany. I remember my first bicycle and my first real date. I remember playing drums at my first gig with The Avengers at the Dumas, Texas YMCA. But when I let my mind grow still, I can still clearly feel that baseball glove on my hand. I can still hear the pop of a baseball slamming into the pocket. I can almost hear my dad saying, Use two hands to catch a ball, you can use one when you make the major league.”
For a moment today, I felt a hint of excitement and pride like I felt playing shortstop on that baseball field. The women of the U S team won the World Cup in soccer. Graceful, athletic women ran, kicked and were bloodied on that pitch. In the end, they walked off, world champions. Nothing will ever take that honor away from them. Just as I’ve carried the memory of that baseball glove and those two years of Little League baseball glory, all my life. I was never a world champion, but when your eight or nine and you’re a Buffalo, you might as well be a world champ.
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.” Yogi Berra
Go well – David