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On The Brink Of Another Magical Season 


©Scott Gatzke 2005

Well it’s that time of year again.  The snow is gone, the weather is getting warmer, the grass is beginning to turn green and Major League Baseball is making its annual return.  All of these things lift my spirit and put a spring in my step but none of them warm my heart as much as the anticipation of getting together with my friends and actually playing the game of baseball. 
I’m twelve years old and riding my stingray bike in the rain to the ballpark where we have a game scheduled later in the afternoon.  My glove is hanging from the handlebars and my bat is tied to the seat and the sissy bar.  My hat and my uniform smell like wet sheep, which is really what they are being 100% wool, but, to me, that smell ranks only slightly behind that of my freshly oiled Rawlings and the newly mown grass on the field.  The game isn’t for some time yet but I just couldn’t contain myself at home any longer.  I’ve been waiting all the long winter for this day and a little rain isn’t about to dampen my spirits.  I arrive at the park and lean my Schwinn up against the fence and run into the dugout to see if any of my friends are waiting.  They’re not, but I don’t mind. 

I sit, for a while, staring out at the field and the big lake, Superior, beyond the leftfield fence, past the big hand-operated scoreboard and down the hill a mile or more.  I daydream the same wonderful daydreams young boys have had for generations.  I see myself making a spectacular diving stop and throwing the runner out at first.  I make a great pitch to strike out the other team’s best hitter with the bases loaded.  I hit a homerun in the bottom of the sixth to win the game.  I sit there, staring out, for what seems like hours.  The scene, to me, is beautiful.  Dark brown dirt on the base paths, deep green grass on the infield and outfield and bright white chalk lines contrast with the gloomy gray sky overhead.  I’ve never been to a major league park in my young life but I can’t imagine that it’s much better than my little field. 

I become restless in my reverie and begin throwing a ball against the dugout wall and snaring the return.  I become my favorite players, Dave Concepcion, Brooks Robinson or Joe Morgan as I make diving stops on the dugout floor.  My footwork and my hands are flawless, or so I think.  It seems I could spend countless hours lost in this dream world, making remarkable stops of balls surely destined to become base hits.  After making all the sparkling defensive plays I could, I decide it’s time to add some offense.  There is still no one else here at the park to pitch but that doesn’t bother me.  I take my bat and ball and stand alone at home plate as the crowd roars in my head.  I throw the ball high in the misty air and strike it with my Louisville Slugger as hard as I can and then run the bases as far as the hit will take me before running through the wet grass to retrieve the ball.  I return to home plate and repeat the process again and again and again, sliding into bases when necessary.  I always get a hit and the crowd always cheers. 

Game time is approaching and no one else is here as it begins to rain a little harder. 
I am unfazed.  I know the rain will stop and my teammates will show up and we will defeat our enemy just as a glorious sunset covers the sky from horizon to horizon.  I need to work on my arm so I stand at shortstop and field an imaginary ground ball in the hole.  I backhand the ball, plant my foot and heave the now soggy ball toward first base.  The trajectory is probably more like a mortar round but to me it’s a missile across the diamond just in time to get the speedy runner.  I run and get the ball and repeat the process from every position on the field.  I throw out a runner at home from centerfield, cut down a base stealer from behind the plate and nab a runner trying to go from first to third on a base hit down the rightfield line.  The crowd is amazed at my versatility.

It’s game time and I’m still alone.  The sky looks like it’s getting brighter.  I think. 
I am now a little worried.  I’m pretty sure the rain will stop and we’ll start the game only slightly behind schedule but there’s an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I’d better work on my pitching in case the coach wants me to start the game.  The clay on the mound is like standing in axle grease and it coats my spikes and makes my feet heavy.  I toe the rubber and go into my best Luis Tiant windup.  I hurl the ball toward home plate but it’s slightly off target.  The imaginary batter hits the dirt.  Bob Gibson would be proud.  I run to the backstop, get the ball and return to the mound to throw another pitch, then another and another.  The batters are no match for my Bob Feller-like fastball and they go down in order nearly every inning.  I finish with a three-hit shutout.

It’s now well after game time and there is no sign of anyone else.  The sky seems darker and the raindrops bigger.
I am starting to get depressed.  I think the rain may still stop and we can get at least a shortened game completed before the sun goes down, but where is everyone?  I realize that I haven’t worked on catching any fly balls yet.  What if the coach wants me to play the outfield?  I take my muddy, sodden ball and throw it as high in the air as I possibly can then scramble to get underneath it to make the catch.  My spikes are still coated with clay from the mound and there is a trail of small, brown footprints in the green grass following me wherever I run.  I make all the routine catches and dive for balls that are far from my reach.  If I fail to catch a ball it’s because it was hit into foul territory and I made a long run to get to it.  The crowd roars their approval for my effort.

It is now long after game time and beginning to get dark.  The passing cars all have their headlights and windshield wipers on. 
I am unhappy.  I realize the rain is not going to stop and I will not get to play a game today.  I walk, slowly, toward home plate and pick my bat up out of a puddle and leave the field, dragging my bat behind me as I go.  Dejectedly, I put my glove back on the Schwinn’s handlebars and tie my Slugger to the seat.  I walk my bike to the sidewalk and then climb on taking one last, long look at my field of dreams before riding off toward home.  The crowd quietly files out of the stadium into the murky night. 
My mom comes to the front door as she hears me climb the steps and lean my bike against the porch railing.  “Look at you.  You’re filthy!” she exclaims as I remove my glove and bat and head for the door.  “Don’t even think of going in the front door looking like that young man!  Go around to the back door, take off your shoes and go straight down to the basement and take off all your clothes and put them in the laundry,” she says as I head down the steps.  “What am I going to do with that boy?” she mutters under her breath.  “I hope you at least won the game after getting so dirty,” she says as I walk along the side of the house toward the back door.  “No mom, we didn’t win.  We didn’t even have a game.  We got rained out and nobody showed up.”  I don’t understand moms.  Why on earth would she think we played a game in weather like this?

To this day this is how I feel on game days.  My mind wanders from the task at hand and I find myself thinking about getting to the park, putting on my uniform and running out onto the field.  I’m twelve years old all over again and excited at the prospect of being able to play baseball with my buddies.  To me, that’s the magic of baseball.  It transports me to a time when anything was possible and I had no worries other than getting a hit or catching the ball.  And now, with the first game of the season only a few days away, I find myself looking forward to seeing all of my friends on the Saints and just having fun.  I can’t contain myself here any longer.  I’ll meet you all at the ballpark.