The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “RC Cola”

Baseball Summers Long Gone

By the time my brother Mark and I were ten and twelve-years old, respectively, our summers had settled into a comfortably predictable pattern.  Wake up to a sultry, summer morning, have some Hawaiian Punch fruit drink (5% real fruit juice!), King Vitamin cereal, throw on some old clothes, then head out to round up our friends.

Scott, Johnny, Tony, and occasionally the Jelleff brothers comprised our small, stable group.  In later years, my older cousin Jimmy would sometimes come all the way over from Stratford to flesh out our crew.

Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s had just finished a remarkable three-year run as World Champions.  Now the Big Red Machine, as relentlessly efficient and mechanical as The Terminator, dominated the baseball diamond.

I was a Mets fan.  My brother Mark was a Braves fan because he liked their logo.  Scott was an A’s fan, and Johnny liked the Yankees.  Tony, a quiet, wiry Portuguese kid, kept his loyalties to himself.

Stopping first at Scott’s house just down the street, we might first trade some baseball cards (Tony Perez for Bert Campaneris straight up), then Scott would show us his latest Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath record.  Eventually, we would gather up our uncertain assortment of bats, gloves and balls before sauntering down Maplewood Avenue to collect Johnny and Tony.  They lived side-by-side in identical gray two-family houses with no yards, front or back.

Tony’s black-clad grandmother was always sweeping the sidewalk in front of their house.  Her smile offered us a view of her few remaining teeth, each one a sentry guarding her ironic, foreign laugh.

Johnny was once again in trouble with his dad, as his younger sister would always gleefully announce to us upon opening the back door to their modest home.  Johnny was a tough little nine-year old with a keen sense of humor.  He would back down for no one.  Slow as Ernie Lombardi wearing a ball-and-chain, Johnny could hit and field, but if a ball got by him, you knew you had yourself at least a triple.

For some reason, it never occurred to us to bring any water along as we trekked over to middle-class Fairfield to play ball.  The thirty minute walk wasn’t so bad in the late morning, although the burnt orange sun was already high in the sky.

Playing in Fairfield was always a crapshoot.  Sometimes, you got lucky and would be able to play uninterrupted for most of the day.  But as often as not, a station-wagon full of pampered, interchangeable suburban kids would invade our field like chubby white locusts.  This would usually happen, of course, in the middle of a game.

Someone’s overbearing dad – they always looked vaguely like either Robert Conrad or Lee Majors – would gruffly announce that they had “reserved” the field.

We knew this was bullshit, of course, but in those days young boys generally didn’t argue with adults.  And we never happened to have a handy grown-up of our own tagging along to provide us cover.

Johnny would just mutter, “Aw shit,” to himself, and we’d trudge off back up and across King’s Highway past Caldor and the County Cinema Theater (some movie about a man-eating shark was very popular that summer.)

Back in Bridgeport, we would inevitably stop off at the family owned and operated A&G Market where I bought my first pack of baseball cards in 1974.  We would purchase a lunch of RC Cola (look under the cap to see if you’re a winner!), and a bag of funyuns.

Fortified with this food pyramid-busting meal, we would climb a chain-link fence and spend the next several hours running, shouting, hitting and throwing on the hot black-tar pavement.

We took the game deadly seriously.  Every pitch, swing, and tag was grounds for an argument.  Scott, hot-tempered as a drunk Red Sox fan at a Yankee game, would throw his glove to the ground, yelling in his nasally, pre-pubescent voice about what total crap the final call was.  Johnny would just laugh at Scott’s antics, which pissed Scott off even more.  Eventually Tony or I would have to step between them to get the game going again.

If not interrupted in late afternoon by someone’s mother or young sister coming by to collect one of us for some unsavory, real-world task (Johnny needs to take out the garbage; Scott needs to come home to watch his two brothers; Mark and I need to go to church:  “Christ mom, on a Wednesday afternoon?  You’ve got to be kidding”), we would play all the way up to suppertime.  As if triggered by some ancient primordial reflex, mothers all over the neighborhood would start shouting out the door for their children to come in and get washed up for supper.

Exactly when all of this ended, I can’t really say.  It must have been around 1978 or ‘79, but I can’t be sure.  One day I was just a kid playing ball with my friends.  Then, without warning or regret, it just stopped.  Someone may have moved away.  New friendships were forged at new schools.  Girls suddenly popped up like dandelions on a spring lawn.

I’m quite sure, though, that I had no idea then that the most important time of my life — the period that essentially shaped the man I have become – had disappeared for good, and would one day, many years later, try desperately to avoid being pinned down and recaptured by mere words.

 

 

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The One That Got Away

Where is she today?  It’s better that I don’t know.

Back when I was about 17-years old, when the world lie open before me like a pearled oyster, I once found myself on a green expanse of outfield grass, spring breeze whispering sweet nothings in my ear.

It was as good as it could get.  Better, even.

Though I was no longer the twelve-year old boy who called the shots in the daily drama that was our neighborhood sandlot baseball team, I hadn’t yet been smacked in the face with my grandfather’s sudden death by stroke, lingering on a gurney in a hospital hallway while the nurse sought purple nail polish from a cheap handbag.

I held my glove up to my face, breathing in the scent of hundreds of baseballs and thousands of hours sweating in the summer sun of past seasons.  Not one of them, however,  could compare with this particular moment of present time.

A girl to my right stood in left-center field, oblivious to her role and responsibility as an outfielder, but driving me into the arms of lustful thought and sin.  My girlfriend, Beverly G., (none of your damned business, friend,) wouldn’t know a balk from a goddamned fig newton, but as she propelled herself forward after a sharp ground ball past the shortstop, I could swear I could tell what color panties she was wearing.

The double intoxication of a sweaty leather baseball glove and the promise of post-game frolicking with my girlfriend of six weeks proved too much for me.  For as Aphrodite mesmerized me with her soothing, diabolical charms, a line-drive hurtled toward me like an angry bullet, aiming squarely for the bridge of my nose.

baseball glove

baseball glove (Photo credit: theseanster93)

At the last moment, which would have been my last moment, I got my glove up in time to deflect said missile.  I had never before batted away such an easy chance, or at least not since fifth grade, and the moment of my deep, dark embarrassment destroyed the sexual rapture that had overtaken me since about the second inning.

Two runs scored and one teen’s spirit was ground to dust as, to add insult to injury, Beverly retrieved the deflected baseball as it rolled toward her, picked it up and tossed it more or less in the direction of the infield.  I had no idea what the score was, but I knew that I had already lost the game.

Imagine if Bill Buckner had not only allowed that cue shot grounder to get by him, but then had to watch as his girlfriend picked it up, thereby exposing the inadequacy of his manhood for all the universe to see.

Such was the fate reserved for this broken youth, bereft of spirit, only an R.C. Cola available to mitigate the disaster that was his most recent stint in center field.

But as I stood there on that outfield grass, waiting for the next 60-years of my life to hurry up and go by already, Beverly came up to me and smiled.

“Did you see my throw?  Wasn’t it good?  I got it in almost to the short-man!”

“Shortstop.  You mean the shortstop,” I muttered like someone responding to a question at the scene of a car crash.

“Yeah!  That was so much fun!”

Clearly, this was why I loved her.  There were no clouds in her universe, only darker shades of light.

Pink Floyd in January 1968 Left to right: Maso...

Pink Floyd in January 1968 Left to right: Mason, Barrett, Gilmour (seated), Waters and Wright (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We walked off the field together toward the gravel parking lot where my ’74 Challenger was parked, and the best / worst day of my life concluded with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” trailing behind us on the Post Road heading toward I-95.

But summer was already being seduced by fall, the hot sun dappled a cooler orange about suppertime.  All things born in the summer have a tendency to die faster than their heartier fall and winter counterparts, and our brief summer of fun was no exception.  An Irish boyfriend with a wispy blond mustache reclaimed “his” Beverly soon after she’d returned to high school for the 11th grade.

Attending a different high school in a universe entirely foreign to Bev’s world, I knew I had about as much chance of keeping her as the Mets had of winning the pennant with Pete Falcone and Neil Allen fronting the pitching staff.

Beverly broke up with me two weeks before Halloween.  Another baseball season was clawing its way to a frigid ending, and I was sure I would never play center field again.

Yet there I was just yesterday — a different park, a different state — standing on the outfield grass fifty feet from home-plate on a little league field in Simpsonville, a cool millenium since I’d looked over my right shoulder at Beverly’s brown hair and bare feet.

Now, a little guy, my eight-year old son, shouts at me to toss the ball over to him.

I hold the ball a while, knowing that this moment, too, shall pass away, leaving an imprint visible only to our souls.  These moments and memories are just too delicate to touch; they accumulate like slowly melting snow on a winter’s warm windowsill.

If we are lucky, we love much, and many, but are always haunted by the ones that got away.

Baseball Summers Long Gone

By the time my brother Mark and I were ten and twelve-years old, respectively, our summers had settled into a comfortably predictable pattern.  Wake up to a sultry, summer morning, have some Hawaiian Punch fruit drink (5% real fruit juice!), King Vitamin cereal, throw on some old clothes, then head out to round up our friends.

Scott, Johnny, Tony, and occasionally the Jelleff brothers comprised our small, stable group.  In later years, my older cousin Jimmy would sometimes come all the way over from Stratford to flesh out our crew.

Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s had just finished a remarkable three-year run as World Champions.  Now the Big Red Machine, as relentlessly efficient and mechanical as The Terminator, dominated the baseball diamond.

I was a Mets fan.  My brother Mark was a Braves fan because he liked their logo.  Scott was an A’s fan, and Johnny liked the Yankees.  Tony, a quiet, wiry Portuguese kid, kept his loyalties to himself.

Stopping first at Scott’s house just down the street, we might first trade some baseball cards (Tony Perez for Bert Campaneris straight up), then Scott would show us his latest Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath record.  Eventually, we would gather up our uncertain assortment of bats, gloves and balls before sauntering down Maplewood Avenue to collect Johnny and Tony.  They lived side-by-side in identical gray two-family houses with no yards, front or back.

Tony’s black-clad grandmother was always sweeping the sidewalk in front of their house.  Her smile offered us a view of her few remaining teeth, each one a sentry guarding her ironic, foreign laugh.

Johnny was once again in trouble with his dad, as his younger sister would always gleefully announce to us upon opening the back door to their modest home.  Johnny was a tough little nine-year old with a keen sense of humor.  He would back down for no one.  Slow as Ernie Lombardi wearing a ball-and-chain, Johnny could hit and field, but if a ball got by him, you knew you had yourself at least a triple.

For some reason, it never occurred to us to bring any water along as we trekked over to middle-class Fairfield to play ball.  The thirty minute walk wasn’t so bad in the late morning, although the burnt orange sun was already high in the sky.

Playing in Fairfield was always a crapshoot.  Sometimes, you got lucky and would be able to play uninterrupted for most of the day.  But as often as not, a station-wagon full of pampered, interchangeable suburban kids would invade our field like chubby white locusts.  This would usually happen, of course, in the middle of a game.

Someone’s overbearing dad – they always looked vaguely like either Robert Conrad or Lee Majors – would gruffly announce that they had “reserved” the field.

We knew this was bullshit, of course, but in those days young boys generally didn’t argue with adults.  And we never happened to have a handy grown-up of our own tagging along to provide us cover.

Johnny would just mutter, “Aw shit,” to himself, and we’d trudge off back up and across King’s Highway past Caldor and the County Cinema Theater (some movie about a man-eating shark was very popular that summer.)

Back in Bridgeport, we would inevitably stop off at the family owned and operated A&G Market where I bought my first pack of baseball cards in 1974.  We would purchase a lunch of RC Cola (look under the cap to see if you’re a winner!), and a bag of funyuns.

Fortified with this food pyramid-busting meal, we would climb a chain-link fence and spend the next several hours running, shouting, hitting and throwing on the hot black-tar pavement.

We took the game deadly seriously.  Every pitch, swing, and tag was grounds for an argument.  Scott, hot-tempered as a drunk Red Sox fan at a Yankee game, would throw his glove to the ground, yelling in his nasally, pre-pubescent voice about what total crap the final call was.  Johnny would just laugh at Scott’s antics, which pissed Scott off even more.  Eventually Tony or I would have to step between them to get the game going again.

If not interrupted in late afternoon by someone’s mother or young sister coming by to collect one of us for some unsavory, real-world task (Johnny needs to take out the garbage; Scott needs to come home to watch his two brothers; Mark and I need to go to church:  “Christ mom, on a Wednesday afternoon?  You’ve got to be kidding”), we would play all the way up to suppertime.  As if triggered by some ancient primordial reflex, mothers all over the neighborhood would start shouting out the door for their children to come in and get washed up for supper.

Exactly when all of this ended, I can’t really say.  It must have been around 1978 or ‘79, but I can’t be sure.  One day I was just a kid playing ball with my friends.  Then, without warning or regret, it just stopped.  Someone may have moved away.  New friendships were forged at new schools.  Girls suddenly popped up like dandelions on a spring lawn.

I’m quite sure, though, that I had no idea then that the most important time of my life — the period that essentially shaped the man I have become – had disappeared for good, and would one day, many years later, try desperately to avoid being pinned down and recaptured by mere words.

 

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