On Baseball Gloves, and Girls
It is my probably faulty recollection that parents simply did not exist when I was a teenager. Sure, someone must have paid the bills on our five-room, one-bath, split-level on Colorado Avenue on Bridgeport’s west side. A person of the feminine persuasion provided us with relatively healthy meals (I could have done with a lot less canned Le Sueur Peas, though.) And my grandparents did technically live directly upstairs from us (my grandma watching General Hospital, and my grandpa reading his Slovak edition of Pravda.)
Yet, in a very real sense, my younger brother and I spent most of our days very much unsupervised. We could have been famous serial arsonists, but as long as we were home by around 9:00 p.m., that’s all that mattered.
Make no mistake, I hold no grudge against my parents or grandparents. My parents worked hard all day, and my grandparents had worked perhaps even harder for tens of decades before that. My grandparents still used the very same salt and pepper shakers they’d received back on their wedding day in the heart of the Great Depression in the early ’30’s. My dad still took the Barnum & State bus to work. No one in my immediate family could be accused of flaunting their wealth.
I bought my first baseball glove in the late spring of ’76, the Bicentennial year, with money I’d earned from household chores, or had saved from my First Communion and most recent birthday. I don’t remember the model, but it was mostly tan with dark brown trim. Perfect for grabbing hard-hit ground-balls off the sweltering summer pavement, it was clearly an infielder’s glove. No Mark Belanger, but Buddy Harrelson might have met his match. Shea Stadium was just about 90 minutes from my house. Surely, a roving Mets scout would someday spot me accidentally while driving through town.
Those honey-hued summer days were sticky and sweet as the peanut brittle in my grandma’s pantry, and time was a distant concept that smelled vaguely of rubbing alcohol and Tuesday afternoon Catechism classes. The ship I floated on was devoid of sail, and I would gladly have remained drifting on the current for eternity in those empty lots where sweaty boys in close companionship would induce grounders, line-drives and a form of self-hypnosis broken only by the Earth folding into itself, abandoning orphan Night to fend for herself.
My baseball glove was always the last thing I put away before bed, and first thing I’d take off my closet shelf once I got home from school. Let me make it clear that football and even basketball, like unannounced visits from cousins, would occasionally spend a day or two with us. Those events, while not unpleasant, only served to make us appreciate the utter seriousness of our relationship with baseball. Nothing could come between us and our bats and gloves. Until it did.
I was invited to my first pool party in July, 1978, when I was 15-years old. My friend Danny, in his usual fashion, simply showed up one mid-day at my house and told me that some of the girls from our class were having a pool party at their place, and that I should come along. I had no idea where these girls lived, and if you were raised in Bridgeport in the ’70’s, just going three or four blocks away from home constituted an expedition worthy of Marco Polo.
Danny drove me in his mom’s tan Buick up the interstate and on over to near the Trumbull line. There were few actual sidewalks out here, and certainly no corner stores. The mall was nearby, however, and everyone seemed to own at least three lawnmowers. I even saw a couple of kids kicking around what looked like a soccer ball on their front lawn. Christ, was I still even in America?
The pool was one of those above-ground jobs that you had to climb a ladder up, and then down, into the over-chlorinated water below. I’d only been in one like this a couple of times before, and, since I couldn’t swim, I’d had little incentive to seek opportunities to partake of this particular form of recreation very often. Skinny and self-conscious, I did slowly sink into the chest-high cool soup, and instantly noticed Janice’s butt around eight inches from my face, as she climbed into the pool directly after I’d made a relatively safe landing. Though not previously a big fan of Janice, she did now hold a certain biological sway over me that no evolutionary chain could break.
The tinny F.M. radio on the picnic table under the back upstairs deck over the driveway churned out tunes of the day, mostly just pop noise designed to hold your attention long enough to sell you that one missing item that would make you, if not quite cool, then at least not as big a loser as that other guy over there by himself with that bad haircut and that awful shirt.
Still, one or two songs (“Surrender,” by Cheap Trick, for example) happened to carve out an odd moment for themselves, to be frozen in time for no reason other than a fortuitous confluence of circumstance heightened by youthful sexual energy, and no obvious alternative to what for me was a pretty damned unique experience.
Chasing the girls around, one of them later stepped in dog-shit in the backyard, and the pool games weren’t quite going anywhere. One of the moms or dads came over and said something or other that I blocked out while their mouth was still forming the syllables, and the false jauntiness of their eyes signaled an end to our nearly nude mirth and merriment. Screw’em.
I slept over my friend’s house that night, the last night I would ever do so. Within a year, he’d become a loud, obnoxious bore, and I’d grown my hair longer while finally landing a job at Carvel Ice Cream on Park Ave. None of the girls from the pool party became a significant part of my life, though I think of them from time to time, and doubt I’ll ever hear the term “pool party” without thinking of that long ago afternoon.
When Danny dropped me off at my house the next day, I returned a changed young man. Baseball was no longer the Big Thing in my life. Within a few days, I sold my baseball glove to a younger kid in my neighborhood for six dollars. It didn’t have much life left in it anyway, and sure enough, Johnny got mad at me (but didn’t stay mad for long), when the webbing broke a few weeks later.
I no longer owned a baseball glove, and wouldn’t again for a few more years. And certainly, none of the gloves that I’ve owned in all those years since have logged nearly as many kid-hours as that first glove did in the streets and sandlots of Bridgeport.
This afternoon, after some deliberation, I bought a baseball glove for a friend of mine as a Christmas present. A few years older than me, and a serious baseball fan, he told me he hasn’t owned a glove in many years. It’s not for me to know why he has gone so long without one, or to inquire as to whatever happened to the mitts he’s owned in the past. Such questions might be too personal.
But I’m hoping that with his new glove, he might casually put to closure whatever experience he may have had regarding the end of his last glove. Unlikely that either of us will be invited over to a pool party anytime soon, perhaps we can, in the near future, simply enjoy a calm, hypnotic game of catch.
Yep, Bill. Not too many baseball players from Maine. I could be wrong, but I think that, to this day, the only Met player ever to come from Maine was pitcher Carleton Willey. I remember when I was living there (REMEMBER???? It seems like the other day!!!!) that a big deal was made out of the fact that a Mariners pitcher who had just started his major league career, was from South Portland. Billy Swift.
In Portland, in case you’re interested, just so that you can do well the next time there’s a trivia question on this, I lived on (in this order) High Street, Forest Avenue, Inverness Street (right near where you lived for a time, right off of Washington Avenue), Valley Street, and, finally, Norwood Street.
I do remember all the Billy Swift hype. He was a pretty decent pitcher, but the fact that he was from Maine made him a virtual superhero in that area of southern Maine. I know most of those streets you named. Aside from living in Gorham, Standish, Penobscot, Waldoboro, N. Waterboro, and Sanford, I lived in S. Portland for a year, and I lived on W. Kidder St., Brackett St., Falmouth St. and a couple of other streets in Portland that I can’t quite remember the names of. I do remember many of those old Maine homes I rented were very poorly insulated, and freezing my ass off for a few months each winter. I don’t miss that.
I miss it. Frankly, leaving Portland was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. I didn’t know how good I had it. Ever since I left WPOR (where I was an all-night country music disc jockey; it was the number one station in Portland and all of Maine, and was, in fact, in the top 10 of listeners in the entire United States, at the time, according to my friend Chuck Brady, who used to also work at WPOR as well as being the owner of Grindle’s TV Rental) and moved back to the state of New York, everything’s gone pretty much downhill for me.
I also miss working at Springer’s Jewelers on Congress Street. That was one of my favorite non-radio station jobs. I was a shipper there. I shipped out jewelry to be repaired, usually up to this jewelry repair company in White River Junction, Vermont. Hah! Before I worked there, I never even HEARD of “jewelry repair”! Mr. Beaulieu was the best boss I ever had. But when his son took over in 1988, he was a real prick, and I got the hell out of there. I’ve heard that about sons of bosses, and I found out that it’s really true. Too bad Mr. Beaulieu quit in ’88; I would’ve stayed there and worked at WPOR and really found my niche. But it didn’t work out that way.
What a foolish and impulsive move that was for me.
Boy, do I miss Portland. I don’t care HOW cold it was. New York City sucks, but I could never live down where you are now, in South Carolina. Too hot and humid. And as if THAT wasn’t enough, they don’t like Yankees (even if they pretend that they do.) Just like in Portland. They hated New Yorkers. Of course, EVERYONE hates New Yorkers, and who could blame them?
Portland, ME was a fine town in the ’80’s, now you either have to be a meth addict or a millionaire (or both) to live there.
Hazelton should just be bulldozed. I’ve seen smaller garbage heaps with more to offer.
Loved this for a lot of reasons. Definitely a nice, evocative bit of nostalgia, with a bit of coming-of-age thrown in for good measure.
I love hearing about the circumstances of people’s childhoods, and sifting out the commonalities and differences. I may have mentioned before, but as a kid, I would be so jealous of kids who grew up in cities, particularly NYC (in which I’m including the whole of Connecticut, apparently). There seemed to be so much going on, so many things to do, so many people. Now, of course, all those things frighten me.
I also like the rite of passage aspect of you selling your glove (and screwing some poor kid over in the process!). Sometimes, when something is such a fundamental aspect of our childhood, we come back to it, even though it’s necessary to cast it away.
With me, the rite of passage was my skateboard. Although when I tell people that, it gives the impression that prior to that, I was a good skater. Not so.
Your grandpa was an ethnic who read Pravda in the late 60’s? You can’t tell me that dude wasn’t on about a million lists!
I think a baseball glove is a lovely gift.
Again, this was really well-done.
Hey, Smak. Great to hear from you again. Thanks for the kind words. I do appreciate them very much.
I think the Pravda my grandpa read wasn’t the same one issued in the old USSR, though I could be wrong. Even today, there’s a Pravda newspaper in Slovakia, so I think the one he was reading was particular to Slovakia, though, of course, it (Czechoslovakia) was under Soviet control at the time. I wish I knew what he was reading about, but as far as I remember, he was a Nixon man at the time. He was certainly never overtly political in any way. He went to church nearly every day, though (seriously.)
I think skateboarding was probably a bigger thing out west than it was where I lived. Also, since I’m sure you’re younger than me, it’s also true that it grew more popular during the ’80’s and into the ’90’s. I remember when the X-Games started, and the increasing popularity of skateboarding really made that happen.
As far as being afraid of cities, Bridgeport is a really good place to be afraid of, and has been for the past three decades or so. It was once a fine city with much to offer. We can trace the beginning of the American decline to the death of cities like Bridgeport, and so many others like it.
The kid that bought my first glove off me was named Johnny, and his dad used to pal around with my dad when they were kids as well. My dad told me that my friend’s dad was a really tough kid, but his kid was more likely to joke around than fight (though he could hold his own with the older kids when he needed to.) I sometimes wonder what happened to him and some of the others in my neighborhood that I used to play with, and what they remember about those times.
Take care, man
I did a quick search to see if Pravda might have been a more generic title, but wasn’t able to find anything without expending more effort than I was willing to.
Regarding the baseball glove kid–as you suspect, he might have been as tough as the old man, and just preferred to be witty. I also think sometimes about people with whom I’ve lost touch but once shared memories. To some degree I think it’s important (to me, anyway) to keep those people as a presence, if a vicarious one, in your life.
Perhaps I should try contacting the Pravda main office in Bratislava, then I could get a subscription as well 🙂
My very first friend (aside from the little girl next door to us whom I knew since we were both babies) was a kid named Binkley that I met in kindergarten. At a play date at his house, he hit me over the head with a Mickey Mouse alarm clock. I cried, but we remained friends. After I moved to a different neighborhood in second grade, I didn’t see him again until we were both around 20-years old. Then one day, just walking down Fairfield Ave. in Bridgeport, I happened to run into him. We recognized each other immediately. He immediately brought up the alarm clock incident. He also told me he’d just gotten back from working on a lobster boat up in Maine. At the time, I couldn’t even picture what he was talking about. Then, about five years later, I moved to Maine. I haven’t seen or heard of him since.
Bill, I can see what you mean about Bridgeport, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever been there. All I know is I HATED Waterbury (home town of Jimmy Piersall). My father and I were driving south from Massachusetts a couple of years ago or so, and we got off the highway at Waterbury for something to eat. We never even got out of the car. I got kind of paranoid, and made sure of the car doors were locked. I didn’t like what I saw in terms of the kids; they all seemed like punks to me, and I worked at NIGHT in NEWBURGH, New York, and if you’re not familiar with Newburgh, New York, look it up; per capita, it probably has the worst rate of violent crimes of anywhere in the country. (Courtesy of our wonderful “War On Drugs”, I might add, that enables the drug gangs.) I truly wouldn’t be at all surprised, in all seriousness, that Newburgh, which most people outside of the Hudson Valley might never have even HEARD of, is the worst city in the country, in terms of quality of life, violent crime rate, and other things.
Going back to Bridgeport, it’s a damn shame.
But as far as the nation as a WHOLE, in attitude and character and intangibles such as that, our country’s slide began on November 22nd, 1963, fifty years ago tomorrow. I’ve believed that for a long time, long before thirty years ago. I think that it shocked the nation so much that it was never the same. And, from books that I’ve read about J.F.K., he was FAR from the best president. I just think that it shocked the country to such a huge extent. Plus, I think that L.B.J. started REALLY screwing things up, being naive enough to fall for the lies of guys like McNamara. May Robert McNamara rot in Hell.
Yes, and I’m a registered Democrat, but, in my opinion, the last even HALFWAY decent president we’ve had was Eisenhower. But I’m not a political scholar, so who knows?
I actually saw the Monty Python movie, “And Now For Something Completely Different” up in Newburgh, N.Y. That would have been around 1983, give or take a year. The town seemed run down at the time, but no more so than New Haven, Waterbury, or Bpt. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s gotten much worse since then. My brother, my friend James and I were the only three people in the movie theater, which was kind of cool. Waterbury does suck. The roads, like down in Wilkes-Barre, PA, seem to be permanently under construction that never ends. But for my money, the worst town I’ve ever seen in in my life was Hazelton, PA.
Pingback: Reblog: On Baseball Gloves, and Girls | The Ball Caps Blog
WordPress is showing that this comment is for me, but I’m thinking it’s directed at the reblog, which somehow shows up in my comment (at least on my screen). Odd. I’m sure by the time you see this the problem will have been corrected, and I’ll sound foolish. More so.
No problem. WordPress can get confusing sometimes.
I worked in radio south of Wilkes-Barre, in Nanticoke. Just curious—- what didn’t you like about Hazelton, and were you just driving through there? I liked Wilkes-Barre. This was in the mid-80s. I worked there, too. Also lived in Scranton and Pittston.
Lots of my grandparent’s fellow Slovaks settled in the Wilkes-Barre, Scranton area. I believe it’s where “The DeerHunter” was filmed. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are very prevalent around there. I once stayed in a hotel in that area that was a former convent. Very hardworking people.
Bill, this is a wonderful post. While trying not to pick at the scabs of my acne-scarred adolescence, let me note that my parents always predicted that, like my big cousin Chuck, I would one day abandon baseball for girls. They were wrong. I dropped it for the debate team. (Aside: we also share Slovak grand parentage.)
Hi Dan, Thanks for the kind words. My moms side of the family is 100% Slovak. My dad’s side is much more mongrel, though certainly not Eastern European. I guess if baseball grabs you early enough, you always come back to it. Also, a big thanks for the re-blog. I really appreciate it.
Bill, I really liked that a lot. Kind of how I felt about baseball in the spring of 1972, when I lost all interest in what I had previously loved being in most, mainly Nassau County Police Boys Baseball. I dropped out of the league in the early spring of that year, which would have been my third year of PBC baseball. It was just too “square” for me at this point (at the age of eleven), and I was more interested in the opposite sex, even though I was better at baseball than I was at sex, which wasn’t saying much. Up until that spring, I cherished PBC baseball above all else.
Glen Russell Slater
Wow, as far as girls are concerned, you were way ahead of me. At age 11, I hardly knew what a girl was. I was probably more like 13 or 14 before I even started to notice them at all. Not to say I didn’t have childhood crushes here and there, but nothing to rival baseball.
Actually, I got hot for ’em at age 10, but I was almost 11.
Didn’t do me much good. I never got married, had a family, nothing like that.
Well, judging by the divorce rate, it’s certainly not for everyone.
Very well written, Bill. I can relate to a lot of stuff in that.
Thanks, Glen. I appreciate the kind words. Thanks for reading,
Speaking of Cheap Trick, did you know that Dwight Yoakam recorded a version of their song “I Want You To Want Me” about ten years ago?
Glen Russell Slater
Thanks for sending that video over to me. I actually like it better than the original Cheap Trick version. Good stuff,
I guess it’s true what they say about 15 years young. It’s either curve balls or girls or in your case, Janice’s curvy ass. You must be snorting ginkgo biloba cause you got quite a memory. Great style and flow to your entertaining twist on the fabled game of catch. Cheers Bill!
Thanks, Steve. I have to wonder if Janice or any of the other girls remember that afternoon, and what their take on it would be all these years later. Thanks for the complements.
Boy howdy, is this some fine writing, strong enough to make me want to seek out my dried-out, beaten-up A2000.
(As an aside, thanks for taking the time to wade through my last post. )
If you happen to find it, come on over for a game of catch, or, as they call it up in Maine, a game of “pass.”
All your posts are a pleasure to read, and usually leave me wondering why I even bother to write my own.
Bill, I lived in Portland, Maine from 1987 to 1989, I used to play catch a lot at Hadlock Field with Jeff, a 13 year old kid from The Hill. He lived in Portland his entire life. He was my little buddy. (Nowadays, my nephew, Robbie, is my little buddy.) But we called it “having a catch”. NEVER “a game of pass.” Not that I recall, anyway. We had catches at Hadlock Field (long before it was made into a minor league stadium; when it was mostly used as a baseball field for high school games, right behind the Expo. Jeff lived in Portland all his life, said “nice shawt, Glen!” when I made a nice shot at the “Y” on Forest Avenue, pronounced “over there on the corner” as “ova thayah on the conna”, as in “Woodfuds Conna” or “Hannafuds Conna.” He didn’t take out the garbage cans; he took out the “rubbish barrels”. And, of course, he didn’t live in Portland; he lived in “Pawtlind.” Yeah, he said everything in perfect Mainer pronunciation and expressions. But I never heard him call a game of catch a “game of pass.” Maybe if we played football he would have said that, but we never did; we only played baseball and basketball. So maybe it’s a Gorham thing or a more rural Maine thing, but not a Portland thing. Jeff was a city kid, after all; Portland was the biggest city in the state. Idon’t know. What do you think, Bill?
W.K, don’t scare me like that. When you said that you wanted to take out your A2000, I thought you were going to take out an assault rifle. Then I looked it up, and it’s a baseball mitt. Gotta admit that I never heard of a baseball mitt with a name like that. I had a Bobby Shantz mitt and a Phil Rizzuto mitt (both handed down from my father, of course), but never an A2000.
Glen Russell Slater
Did your friend used to call it a “door yard?” Never heard that term until I lived up there, then later read it in a Stephen King novel. Also, “frost heave.” Three different friends of mine in Maine called it “Pass,” as opposed to “Catch.” One was from the Augusta area, but was living in Portland when I met him. Another friend who used that term was from the Cumberland / N. Yarmouth area. A third was from some little town outside of Freeport. I’m sure not everyone in Maine used that term, but I’d never heard it in my life until I got to Maine. Mainers, as you well know, are a bread apart.
This some of your best writing. Your descriptions of the pool party and youth conjure up many memories of my own to accompany yours.
It’s a pity that youth is wasted on the young.
Keep up the good work,
Thanks very much, Allan. And, yes, youth should be reserved for old codgers like me 🙂
Well, maybe Jeff did call it “a game of pass”. It’s very possible. I just don’t recall him saying it. But he might have. Maybe I wasn’t listening!
But we used to play at Hadlock Field in the most freezing of conditions! I remember falling on my rump once throwing the ball around in the Hadlock Field outfield when it was covered with snow and ice.
Hey, when ya love baseball, ya love baseball! I lost interest in PBC baseball at the age of eleven, but I always had a passion for non-organized baseball (meaning just playing for the fun of it; no uniforms and all that jazz.) Nor did I lose interest in stickball. In fact, I never even PLAYED stickball until I started playing with Glenn, Franco, and Doug in 1974 or so. I was already 14, and had never played stickball before!!!! That’s kind of late from where I come from! Hey, I didn’t learn the fundamentals of baseball until my father FORCED me to learn it in our backyard when I was eight or nine or so. (and he had to really FORCE me to!) And I’m thankful to him that he did.
So I was relatively late when it came to learning baseball and VERY late when it came to learning stickball, but I was early to getting sexually aroused by the opposite sex (I was ten). Played stickball from 14 until I graduated high school and into my early 20s. Stickball was my all-time favorite ATHLETIC sport, even more so than baseball.
By the way, what’s a “door yard”???? I don’t recall ever hearing that one while I was living in Portland, Maine either. What does it mean?
As I understood it, a dooryard is the yard or garden area near the most commonly used entrance / exit of a house. I believe it is an old English word most commonly used in rural farm areas, and it never quite went out of style in some corners of Maine.
As for baseball, my dad never taught me a thing about it. I learned it all from playing with my older cousin, Jimmy, and then my neighborhood friends, and from just watching it on T.V.
Maine does have a very short growing season as far as baseball is concerned. I once coached a 6th-grade baseball team up in a town called Penobscot. We hardly ever got to practice outdoors before the season started because there was always snow / frost / ice on the ground, or about ten inches of mud. Maine doesn’t really have a spring, just a short mud season, followed by a fickle summer.