Tuesday was my 39th birthday and I spent a good deal of it thinking about baseball. That in and of itself isn’t unusual, especially since I began writing for Fansided. Today, however, I was feeling a bit nostalgic.
Maybe it comes from being born during the first month of baseball season, but I’ve always been crazy about the game. I started playing T-Ball as soon as I was old enough, and even from the age of seven I took it seriously. How serious? I’m still mad at the second baseman from my T-Ball team for ducking instead of catching my throw from centerfield when we could have gotten a guy out at second base. Yes, I hold grudges.
In Little League, I was the only kid who used a wooden bat. Major Leaguers used wood, so I did too. I was appalled at the idea of using aluminum. I still have that bat too, and the ball I hit for my first home run, and the jersey and the hat I wore when I hit it. I told you, this was serious business.
When I expressed an interest in pitching, my dad got his hands on a battered old catchers mitt and measured off the distance in the backyard so I could practice. It took a brave man to crouch down with no protective gear and catch me. I was a tad bit wild, but he hung in there. God knows I made him pay for it more than once.
My parents tolerated it when I spent hour after hour pitching a tennis ball against the backdoor in one simulated game after another. I broke a couple of windows and the porchlight, but they never complained. If that old door could talk, it would cuss me out for sure.
Want another example of how serious baseball was too me? For an eighth grade English project, I wrote a poem about Texas Longhorns first baseman Scott Bryant. I’m pretty sure that I’ve still got that floating around here somewhere too.
When I got too old for Little League, I moved up to Senior League and needed a new glove. My parents took me to K-Mart in Borger, Texas and had me pick out a glove. I found this crappy, cheap black glove that had almost no substance to it at all. The first game I played with that new glove, I misplayed a liner to left and had to leap for the ball. It hit the mitt and damned if that crappy glove didn’t wrap around that ball like a net. If I had gotten a new glove, I might still be chasing that ball. That was the first of many flies I tracked down with that old glove, and yep, I’ve still got it.
I was lucky enough that my high school added baseball when I got to 10th grade. I had been afraid that my baseball career would be over before I got a drivers license. High school ball gave me a chance to extend it a few more years. I wasn’t great, but I was decent. I took from my high school years some nice memories; like the inside the park home run I hit against Dalhart or the game saving, diving catch I made in extra innings against Friona in the rain.
The summer I turned sixteen, I joined a recreational slow-pitch softball league with my dad. My parents had always supported me, bought me whatever I needed and never missed a game. Now, I got to play alongside my dad while my mom served as the scorekeeper. It was true family affair and some of the best summers of my life. I’m so glad I got to do that. Our team was never that good, but it was a lot of fun.
After high school, my playing days were over, but not my association with baseball. I spent my first year at West Texas A&M University writing for the school paper as a sports writer. I had the opportunity to interview former Major League relief pitcher Mike Marshall on many occasions. Marshall had been hired to restart the long-dormant baseball program at WTAMU, a difficult task. I loved interviewing him because you didn’t actually have to ask a question, just say hello and he’d do the rest. He didn’t last long there and it ended badly, but it was still a cool experience and on of few brushes with greatness.
In the fall of 1997 I starting working as a board-op for an all-sports AM station in Amarillo. I would spend many a long night at the station controls listening to all kinds of sporting events. We carried the MLB playoffs, so I worked a lot of those games.
However, my favorite thing was working the games for our local independent league team, the Amarillo Dillas. I worked almost every game from 1998 until I left there in August 2000 and developed a close working relationship with the Dillas radio announcer, a fellow baseball nut from New York City named Brett Quintyne. Those were great years for the Dillas. They lost a heartbreaking championship series to the Alexandria Aces in ’98. In ’99 they came storming back and earned a rematch with those same Aces. Remember how I said I hold grudges? The night the Dillas finally won the title, I didn’t get to work that game, I was stuck working a Denver Broncos game on our sister station. I’m still mad about it. I felt like I had earned the right to work that game.
It was during one of those summers that Brett helped me fulfill a dream. He arranged it so that I got to come up into the booth and I did an inning of play-by-play. I was nervous and I probably sucked, but it was fun. He recorded it and I’ve still got the tape around here somewhere. One of these days maybe I’ll break it out and listen, but I’m afraid.
Marriage and kids and new jobs changed things for me. I didn’t have the time to devote to my favorite sport any more. I still enjoyed the game, but now only in small samples. I lived and died with the Astros during their great 2004 and 2005 runs and I did the same when the Rangers finally broke through in 2010 but many seasons came and went with little fanfare.
Fansided entered my life in February and it reignited not only my interest in sports journalism but also in the game itself. Writing for Nolan Writin, (as well as covering Texas Longhorns baseball for Fansided’s Hook ‘Em Headlines) has been like reconnecting with an old friend. It’s been nice. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the 2014 Rangers the way I once knew the Rangers of my youth.
Today, on my 39th birthday, while my 13-year-old daughter was packing her things for our upcoming move, she found that old catcher’s mitt of my dad’s. I didn’t realize he had given it to her. I couldn’t resist. So I grabbed my glove (a blue one my parents had bought for me in high school, not the old black one) and we, along with my 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, headed across the street to the park. It was 50 degrees with 50 mph winds and blowing dust, but it didn’t matter. The weather is never too bad to throw a few balls. When I threw one and saw it impact in that old catcher’s mitt, I felt like I was in Little League all over again.
Time will move on and the details of this day, like so many others will fade, but I hope that the memory of those few minutes with my kids never does. Could a dad ask for a better birthday present than a game of catch in the park, even in a dust storm? I doubt it.
Tags: Texas Rangers