With only one week to go before the regular MLB season begins, I thought I’d go back and take a look at my old baseball pictures.
Only it turned out that I only had one: a tiny black and white picture of me standing at third base that appeared in my high school yearbook. Proud baseball Poppa to the rescue!
My father dug up about eight photos of me as a gangly 16 year old, doing what I did best that year: protecting the left bench from foul balls.
I also got really good at keeping score. When I wasn’t standing in right field while it snowed. Spring in the Adirondacks: we never played any of our scheduled games the first week of April, and even during the second and third week games typically featured flurries, sub-freezing temperatures, and rock-hard dirt surfaces to bounce on…ah, slide on when stealing second. Even now in my hometown, there are three feet of snow on the field, and I’m sure the players are tired of practicing inside the gym (the parking lot is also a favorite for ground-ball drills).
Sophomore year was a disappointing year, as I recall. I had won the JV “Sportsmanship Trophy” my first year, a year in which I tallied all of 8 at bats with exactly 1 hit to go with a handful of walks and stolen bases. Plus one hit by pitch, a strike on the left knee that took me out the game for a pinch runner (who promptly got thrown out trying to score from first on a dribbler to the center fielder). I managed a few more hits the second time around, and got some playing time at third and second to go along with left and right field, but I wasn’t much of a physical specimen. I was the only guy with glasses (a couple had contact lenses, but my family couldn’t afford them).
I was also the only person on the team that year who got stuck with a decades-old wool shirt that itched like mad and embarrassed me to no end. I was the smallest guy on the team, and it was the smallest shirt the team could find. At least the pants fit.
Despite not being much of a hitter, I at least was not too shabby at defense. As a defensive outfielder, I religiously followed the advice I found in various “expert” books on backing up throws: every time the pitcher tried a pick-off play, every time the catcher tried to throw somebody out at second, every time there was a ground ball play, I’d run in behind the nearest base and then scamper back to my position. So that’s why one time when our pitcher practically threw the ball all the way to the street in a vain pick-off attempt, I was in position to grab the ball, lookup to see the runner heading for third, and gun him out by about ten feet. Not bad for a short skinny kid with glasses.
As I recall, I also developed a well-earned reputation as an able bunter; given that nobody in our league ever bothered to bunt, this was a somewhat dubious distinction. In my senior year on the varsity team, I went on to become (I’m pretty sure) the only player in our league to ever pinch-bunt.
Yes, we were that desperate for runs. The lean years. Hey, our team nickname was the “Burgers,” for crying out loud. Can’t get much more small town than that. (In case you’re wondering, the “Burgers” was originally “Burghers,” i.e., the German for “townspeople.” But we still had a kid dress up in a hamburger outfit for the homecoming football game.)
Yeah. It was a ton of fun. Play ball!