Over the next couple of weeks, Little Leaguers will be out in force on a street near you, marching in annual parades to kick off the start of the new season.
The parades are many and scattered throughout the borough from Bayside to Howard Beach and from Rosedale to East Elmhurst. Its a yearly tradition and something that hearkens back to my own youth, as a young kid on the streets of Maspeth, eagerly awaiting the start of my first season playing Little League baseball.
When I was 8 years old my friends and I played baseball every day of the week and sometimes from dawn till dusk on the weekend. There was a whole troupe of us, all of whom lived on 69th Place or 58th Road. It was a small enclave of homes on two blocks that formed a sort of T shape with what now seems like an amazing amount of kids.
Just off the top of my head, my friends included Ralph, George, Russell, Tony, Joe, Frankie, Matt, Phil, Andrew, Robert, another Anthony, whom we called Elvis, another Robert and my older brother Ron, who wasnt really a friend because he used to beat me up and ignore me in public.
Anyway, barring the occasional visitor from two blocks away, the baseball games at the intersection of 69th Place and 58th Road consisted of all the younger kids, with whom I belonged, against the older kids, who were Frankie, Matt and Andrew.
The older kids could not have been more than 14 years old at the time, but we were all 8 or 9, so they seemed ancient. And boy, could they play. The three of them routinely beat us by ridiculous margins, so much so that I felt compelled to leave my friends behind and join an actual Little League team in th ehopes of finally tasting victory.
I remember signing up to play and getting my blue and white uniform with the words Burger King emblazoned on the front. The uniform also came with these special socks that looked a lot like the kind the Major League players wore. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
I was under the illusion that I was a good player. I might have been, I dont really remember, but I was good enough in my managers eyes to be the teams starting third baseman and bat third in the batting order. I truly believed I was the next Graig Nettles.
The league played all its games at one baseball field then located next to the Our Lady of Hope R.C. Church. The field no longer exists, having been built over many years ago when the church expanded, but back then it was a cathedral on par with Yankee Stadium in my eyes, the place where my considerable baseball skills would finally be put to appropriate use and not squandered while my friends and I got the tar beat out of us on our makeshift concrete field.
And so the time came for my teams first game, against another crop of youngsters, whose name I can not remember for the life of me, but whose green uniforms I thought were far inferior to our Navy Blue.
Sitting here typing these words 23 years later, I still feel a wave of pride rush over me as I remember my first hit, witnessed by some friends from my block, my mother, my uncle and my certainly reluctant older brother. It was my very first at bat in the first inning of the game. The pitcher must have hung a meatball down the heart of the plate, slow and straight enough for me to lace up it back up the middle and into center field for a single.
I was in paradise.
Somewhere between my first and my second hit, things went awry. Its mostly a blur now, but somehow the team in those ugly green uniforms started beating the heck out of my teams pitching staff. I mean, it was brutal.
They must had a double-digit lead by the time my manager got around to asking me to take my turn on the pitchers mound. Mind you, I had never pitched an inning of baseball before, but there I was, all 4-foot something of me alone on the mound with my team trailing by at least 10 runs.
Just to let you know, I have no arm at all. If a pitch I ever threw broke 60 miles per hour in my life I must have been throwing down hill. But I was accurate, that much I give myself. I threw the ball right where I wanted to, but with little speed. This meant the other team had batting practice at my expense, teeing off on my soft tosses, which were right over the plate.
My father arrived late to the game, but was there to greet me when I came off the mound for the last time in my life and offer his own special kind of solace. (Thats sarcasm, by the way.)
I could hear it in the parking lot, my dad said of the shelling the other team had given me. How wonderful. I still don't think I've recovered from that one.
To make up for my less than stellar outing on the mound, I laced another single through the hole in the sixth and final inning, only to be forced out at second to end the game a batter later. The final score was 17-2.
It may sound a little tough, but it still is a magic time the way I remember it. My team did eventually win a few games, but none are as vivid now as that very first game. And Im sure thousands of other youngsters are getting ready to open their seasons this week and next with just as much anticipation as I had more than two decades ago.
Some will win, some will lose, but it will be a memory that lasts, regardless, even if it isnt all peaches and cream.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2002 Community News Group
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