Thursday, January 13, 2011
A bit of my own writing...
Thought I’d post some writing stuff today. The following is an excerpt from one of the two memoirs I’m working on. It covers about a three-year period and is focused on the baseball adventures my son Mike and I enjoyed. These were some of the best years of my life.
Hope you like it!
(From an as-yet unpublished memoir, working title: MIKE AND ME)
I look out over the ball diamond at the Country Estates Mobile Home Park at the six boys lined up on the third-base line and another row of six along the first-to-second basepath as they toss baseballs to their partners and I see another ballfield in my past. A diamond nestled in the corner of the recreation yard at Pendleton Reformatory, eighty-seven miles south of where I am today. And thirty years in the distance.
I'd been required to take a 2-5 year timeout from life for various crimes against society, mostly burglaries. Eighty-two of them, to be precise. Eighty-two second-degree burglaries were the "official" ones, the ones the authorities were aware of. There were possibly more…
There are no fourteen-foot-thick gray walls around this field. Just the mobile homes behind us, a community center to our right and a woods where left and center field end. Beyond right field is the access road to the park, which leads in from the highway.
The bubble-gum-chewing eleven- and twelve-year-olds hurling the horsehide before me on this day are the members of my Wallen youth baseball team. I am their coach. We're an AABC team. This is my first year at Wallen. For the past five years I coached in Little League at St. Joe, over in the northeast part of town where I lived. None of these boys know my past, nor do their parents. If they did, I'd be their ex-coach, I think. I'm pretty sure at least some of the moms and dads would be demanding my resignation should they learn I served two years in prison for burglary once upon a time.
Although, one boy does know. My son, Mike. He's the tall one on the end, throwing lasers to the tough little guy who usually catches him in games, Steve Tipton, the son of my assistant coach, Steve, Sr. I know I can trust Mike not to divulge the information he has about his dad to his teammates. I can trust Mike with anything. We're best friends and we talked about his father's past a long time ago in one of our nightly "guy talks" we have each evening just before he shuts his eyes and drifts off to sleep. It's our secret. We have a couple-three secrets, us two guys.
Sometimes, after he falls asleep, I sit on the edge of his bed and simply stare at him. Sometimes, we hold hands as we talk and he falls asleep that way. I don't want to take my hand away, so I'll sit there until his unclenches and then I'll leave. Not before I bend over and kiss his slightly damp forehead, the sweet smell of his little-boy hair filling my nostrils. And my heart.
"Four-seam grips!" I shout at my team. "Remember. Always four-seam grips."
Our first drill at each practice begins the same. We warm up in these lines and work on our receiving and throwing mechanics. Once they're warmed up, we'll hold the competition they're all waiting for. Keep extending the distance between the lines until there's only one pair left who haven't dropped the ball or underthrown it.
They know to be in an athletic, "linebacker" position, glove extended, knees, waist and elbows bent, withdraw the glove slightly as the ball arrives. Use both hands to catch the ball. Get the ball out of the glove fast, get the four-seam grip and pivot, glove extended in front, throwing arm back, knees bent, fingers on top of the ball, hand slightly above the shoulder. The wrist is also bent. Every possible joint on the body is bent except the neck and the neck is turned toward the left if the thrower is right-handed, to the right if he's a southpaw. Bring the glove hand to your heart as you pivot toward your target and throw.
Give a good target, I say. I say this quite often. Hands up. Chest-high. Get the ball out quick.
Expect a bad throw, I repeat.
This is like life, I tell them, my attempt to weave a bit of philosophy into what we're doing. Give folks a good target and expect a bad throw. Be happy when you get a good throw and prepared if you don't.
How do you catch the ball? I ask.
With your feet, they yell out, in unison. Move to the ball. Don't "arm" it. They're well-rehearsed. Good kids, these. They pay attention.
Coach Steve and I stop the kids occasionally and walk up and down the lines, checking on their grips. I'm a preacher and the four-seam grip is my sermon topic.
I quiz 'em.
"Why do we always want to use a four-seam grip?" I want to know.
By this, the second week of practice, twelve hands shoot up. They all know by now.
"Because," says the other Mike on our team, diminutive Mike Rish, when I point to him. His dad sponsors the team. Rish Construction. "If you use another grip, the ball may sail or curve or sink." It's important Rish knows this. He's going to be our second baseman. I don't think "sail" was a word in his vocabulary before joining this team, but it is now. Probably "sink" wasn't either, at least not in this context. Mike Rish wants to be a pitcher - ten of the twelve players on this team do - so curve was a word familiar to him. They all want to throw curves but we don't let 'em. They throw 'em anyway.
You can only do so much and then you have to realize they have minds of their own.
I point to another boy who still waves his hand frantically. He has knowledge to share. They all have the same knowledge, but Ian Tipton is anxious to show his coach he's been paying attention. Coach Tipton and I have Ian slotted for third base and maybe do some catching. He's a hard-nosed kid, lives here in the trailer park. It's Jeff, his dad, who arranged for us to use their field for practice. Ian is Coach Steve's nephew. Jeff helps us coach.
"The ball may slip and you'll get a wild throw," Ian says, in a voice that's already changing, hitting those high and low tones during the same sentence, sometimes in the same word. "You gotta use the seams." Ian knows this now, but during the season, during a bang-bang play, he'll forget. I'll get ticked off for a second and then remember he's only twelve. I'm in my fifties and I forget lots more than that and most times my own memory lapses don't come during the pressure of bang-bang plays.
Bang-bang plays are kind of what got me into trouble all those years back. I was kind of a bang-bang guy. Guy with a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent head, kind of like the character Ebby Calvin (Nuke) LaLoosh in the movie Bull Durham…but with more serious consequences than Nuke suffered. Instead of nearly getting cut from a baseball team, I ended up close to getting cut by life. Like Nuke, I got lucky and was able to make a comeback.
To a large degree because of that kid out there.
"Four-seam grips!" I yell out at the boys.
It's my mantra.
And, here he is for his eighth-grade basketball team.
Here, Mike's pitching for his Snider H.S. team.
And last... Mike and I getting our "makeup" before our appearance (twice!) on MSNBC-News for the book we co-authored, a spoof on Little League baseball titled "Surviving Little League."
Which is this book. We had a wonderful time writing it together and the best thing was we got to go on TV and were also interviewed on over 40 radio shows from all over the country from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. Best experience of my life was writing this book with Mike (it was his idea) and appearing on all the shows. (He was 12 when we wrote it.)