This is a blog about the Mets but today I ask you for a brief break from our favorite team. This is a personal article, written three years ago. It’s about baseball – in a way – but I hope it has an even broader appeal. I promise to write about the Mets tomorrow, when Chris Young and company salvage the final game in the series against the Reds.
Most of my childhood was spent in an empty lot across the street from my house. At one time, there were three small houses on that lot but by the time I knew it, the only traces of houses were a few odd bricks that you would come across now and then and broken parts of a sidewalk.
My first memories of the lot were the older kids digging a giant hole, which we filled up with all of the garbage. Now this turned a good play place into a great one. What fun it was jumping in the hole with all of the trash in it. Little did I know that the older kids had a vision and that vision was to turn the vacant lot into a ball field.
That giant hole turned into second base. There was a pitcher’s mound, although it really wasn’t a mound – it was just slightly elevated from home plate. Behind home plate there was a fence which separated the lot from the Schnurr’s property but which was our backstop.
It was a corner lot. Home to first base was basically parallel to Craig Avenue. The problem was the outfield quickly ran into Amboy Road, which was a pretty busy street. It didn’t take long to be strong enough to hit the ball regularly into the street and then across the street, where some neighbors were friendlier than others about balls winding up on their front porch.
Shortly after the conversion into a field, the older kids who built it outgrew it altogether. But it was never vacant on a summer’s day. We had all kinds of games – from seven or eight kids per side to unbalanced games to even three-on-three or two-on-two games where you could only hit to one field and where grounders could be thrown to the pitcher for an out if the ball reached him before the batter got to first base.
When the competition level couldn’t be balanced or we just wanted a change of pace from playing a real game, we would play running bases. This was particularly good if there were a lot of girls around at the time. You would have a fielder at two bases and a bunch of kids in the middle who were trying to get safely to one base or another. Once a runner got tagged out three times, (s)he would become a fielder. It was surprisingly fun and helped develop those run down skills.
When we only had three people, we would have a runner, a catcher and an outfielder and play tag up. The catcher would throw a pop-up to the outfielder and the runner would tag from third and we would have plays at the plate. This was a great game where all three positions were fun to play.
I started playing in the lot with my older brother Arthur and his friends. I was very young and they only let me play as a favor. Then it was my brother Gary and his friends. Then it was kids my age. And when I should have passed it on to the next generation, I would still play. At first I was only allowed to hit to the opposite field and then I batted lefty in the games.
I loved that lot. Of course, now it has one giant house on it and no pickup ball games are played there anymore. I was reminded of the lot because I had a dream about it last night.
I rarely remember my dreams, so it is always kind of special to me when I do. The ones I do remember are ones which have different people from my life interacting like they’re all best friends and this one was no different.
I was my current age playing a game in the lot. And in the game was a bunch of kids that I grew up with. But there was also my friend Bob from college. And best of all my two kids were playing, too.
I’m convinced I had that dream as a reaction to Father’s Day. My kids made a big fuss about the day and one of the last things I did Sunday night was talk to my dad. I don’t have a typical relationship with my father. When I was a kid, I didn’t like him very much and I usually did my best to avoid him.
Dad worked two jobs to support his family and he was never in the best of moods the rare times when he was home. Also, he never spoke if yelling was an option. Plus, I was convinced he didn’t know my name. I was the youngest of eight children and dad would look at me and tell me to do something, except he would call me the name of one of my brothers, instead. Dad knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on the right name. So he would just go down the list, calling all the names out (even the girls) and getting madder and madder with each wrong name. It was like a cartoon, where you could see the steam coming from his ears with each wrong guess.
But of course, dad did a million things for me that a small kid just didn’t fully appreciate. One of those things was dad would go across the street and mow that empty lot. He never made a big deal out of it, never asked any of his kids to say thank you for doing it, much less make them do it themselves. He just put that as item #1,000 on his list of things to do and he did it.
Most kids think their dad is the greatest when they’re little kids and then move away from that notion as they get older. Me, I’m the exact opposite. I couldn’t stand my father when I was a kid and now he’s the most incredible man I know.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.