The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

The Last Days of Summer

When I was a kid, I used to keep track of my batting average during our extremely informal sandlot baseball season.  I really didn’t know how to figure out a batting average, but I knew that one hit in two at bats was a .500 average, and I would go from there.  One year, I hit something like .667, but I may have been off by 50 points or more.

To call it a “season” really doesn’t do justice to our daily habit of roaming around Bridgeport looking for a place to play ball.  Moreover, if we couldn’t find other kids beyond our neighborhood to play against (which was often the case), then we would split our core group in two and just play against each other in a lot, a field, or a quiet side-street.

Our baseball season would go on without significant interruption until the dawn of another school year.  At that point, as the summer sunlight began to slant away from us, retreating into an early dusk, fewer and fewer of us would regularly be available after school to play ball.

A terrible disease called onset Algebra now vexed us in the short hours between our after-school snack and bath-time.  It was often accompanied by a sharp pain of anxiety in the gut as we realized those moments lost daydreaming in the classroom (when we should have been paying attention to the teacher) were probably a fatal mistake.

The darkness of the dreaded spelling homework doomed us, rendering pointless our pathetic protests to mom.

“Mom, can’t I go out and play now?”

“Not until after you finish your homework.”

“But Scott and Johnny are outside playing ball already.”

“I don’t care if Scott and Johnny are out there all night.  Now go finish your homework, mister.”

There were still those infrequent moments where on a surprisingly warm September afternoon just after Labor Day, my friends and I would sweat out the school-day like alcoholics sobering up in the sunshine, and revel in the smell of leather gloves and the sound of the ball smacking into our mitts.

These, the last days of summer, passed over us, through us, around us, the aroma of dead August still scenting the air.  We would fight a losing battle to hang onto September, knowing full well that October portended thicker jackets, shorter days and frostier mornings.

Funny thing about the last day of summer.  By our unwritten definition, it was the final day we were all available to play baseball together.  But we never knew in advance which day that would be, and we never marked its immediate passing with ceremony or scroll.

Yet for some odd reason, after several slippery decades and another Labor Day have passed me by, denoting another dying summer, I still half expect to look out my kitchen window and see Scott and Johnny tossing around a scuffed ball, waiting for me to come out and play.

Now my son, about the same age as the boys I remember playing with all those years ago, faces his own after-school homework demons, his lazy summer afternoons already just hazy memories.

But the bat and ball buried deep in the closet beckon, and my arm feels good today.  The math problems will still be here when we get back, and I doubt Scott and Johnny will wait around out there forever.

In baseball, it turns out, there are no last days, merely irregularly scheduled off-seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

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17 thoughts on “The Last Days of Summer

  1. I really enjoyed this one….as always. I don’t get to throw the ol’ horsehide around as much as I used to; but when I do it’s always an amazing treat that can’t be surpassed by many things in pure fun and pleasure.

  2. Another great one, Bill.
    This makes me a little jealous, actually, ’cause as kids we never were able to field a full team when we were playing among ourselves. The guy unlucky enough to get stuck in the outfield would end up shagging a lot of balls.
    It’s just been in the last couple of weeks that my 7-year-olds have been interested in playing baseball. They were on a T-Ball team last year, but just didn’t get it, and opted not to play this year. But now that we can see the Dodgers on TV again the boys are starting to get it. We’ve been playing with a tennis ball & a whiffle bat in the back yard, and playing light catch with gloves & a real baseball. It’s a lot of fun, and we all enjoy it.

    Anyway, the thing that really grabs me about this piece is, as usual, the writing.

    • You know, I also noticed a big change in my younger son from age 7 to about 8 1/2. He went from just sort of being out there on the field, missing just about everything thrown to him or hit his way, to being this little showboat out there who grabs line-drives and pop-ups, and hits liners over the second baseman’s head. He was even presented with the game ball for the final game of the season. Needless to say, his dad was quite proud of him.
      Thanks very much for the kind words. They do mean a lot to me.
      -Bill

  3. I used to draw pictures of baseballs and baseball diamonds in the margins of my school assignments. It didn’t really do much to ease the desire to be out playing, and I’m sure it only served to make my teachers wonder about my priorities.

  4. Junkies of the sandlot. God dammit, I miss those days and maybe miss even more my appetite to make those types of days you describe here come to life again, as in right now, as in today. Why not! Life or getting old getting in the way? I don’t know, but it feels like a freaking amputation. I’m not sure if I should thank you Bill for arousing this sensation or head to the fridge for a beer. Either way, it will be good, so thank you. I think I’ll go back to the fridge three more times and I’ll toast one to you!

  5. This brings to mind a tradition at LeMoyne College, a small Jesuit school in Syracuse which several of my friends attended; there is, each Spring where something akin to warmth returns to Syracuse, a day known as “Dolphy Day” (the school’s mascot being the dolphin) where a designated student declares it’s commencement, and classes and sobriety go by the wayside–but no one knows, even it’s author, what day it will be.

    This is wonderful work, wistful without ever being maudlin, a celebration of the great game, which is never over until the sun goes out on us one final time.

  6. Good writing, Bill. And I succumbed to the hideous epidemic of Algebra, too. What a year. Skin fell off as if it was going out of style. It was similar to Leprosy; maybe it was even worse. Forget it I never shall. I was in Mr. Cardinale’s math class, and…….

    Now, the MAIN difference between when you and I were doing our homework in the 60s and the 70s, Bill, and when your kids are doing homework in the 2000s and this decade and into the next decade, is ANOTHER plague, and this makes Algebra look like tiddly winks. It’s called Common Core, otherwise known as “No Child Left Behind”, one of the worst things that ever happened in public education, by FAR, in my opinion. What a bunch of crap. My nephew who just started sixth grade yesterday and my niece, who starts 11th grade today (my niece is in ELEVENTH GRADE???? Wait a minute. That can’t be possible. Could it??? Maybe it’s TENTH grade.) At any rate, when your mother said that she didn’t care if you were doing homework all night, she meant that in an exagerated way. It’s not exaggeration anymore, though. These kids are LITERALLY (I hate that overused word, but in this case, it fits) doing their homework into the late hours of the night. It’s a wonder that they get any sleep. When my sister and brother-in-law try every night at the kitchen table to get my niece to do her homework, it reminds me of a steel cage match between Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham. It’s an arm-twisting experience every night, and it’s not recommended for the weak of heart.

    Being a former history teacher, you’re probably appalled by this Common Core crap, just as my father, also a former history teacher, is.

    Again, I enjoyed the story, Bill. Let’s hope we have some more posts from you soon!

    Glen

    • Hi Glen,
      No, I’m not a fan of Common Core. It’s not only the amount of homework that’s the problem (though I do think that’s becoming a significant problem), but the way they’re learning math today that is confusing to us old folks. I actually got stuck on a 4th grade math problem a while back, and I don’t think I’m a complete moron (just a partial one.)
      Actually, my biggest problem with education today is that there is no longer any consistency. Change seems to occur for the sake of change. Teachers, by and large, have little say in the matter, but there are always “experts” (few of whom have ever taught) who always try to “improve” things every few years. I’m not saying that teaching methodology can’t be improved, or that nothing should ever change, but much of what happens in the classroom these days stems from someone’s political agenda more than anything else.
      Having said all that, I’m sure I’ll be bugging my sons to do their homework as soon as they get home from school a few hours from now!
      Thanks, Glen
      -Bill

  7. This is a great piece of nostalgia, Bill. We didn’t have seasons, per se, when I was a kid in South Florida. It was always sunny & funny. I didn’t really get aligned with Mother Nature’s seasons until we moved to western Colorado and experienced the transition cycle of Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.

    You are right about the math problems—they will always be there (that’s why they are “problems”). The Father-Son time cannot be quantified, or regained at a later date. Ω

    • Hi Allan, That’s my New England bias coming through. As a kid, it never really occurred to me that people who lived in other parts of the country didn’t necessarily experience the four seasons. I wish summer lasted longer, though!
      Thanks for the kind words,
      -Bill

  8. I know the feeling. Great job, Bill.
    v

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