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Imagine being able to actually set foot on a Major League Baseball field

I come by my love of baseball honestly. When my mother was growing up, she’d hop a bus, ride it downtown and take in a Columbus Redbirds game. Dad, who was raised in South Bend, was known to catch the South Shore rail line to Chicago and watch the White Sox.
 
Their affection for and appreciation of the game rubbed off on me, so when I was 8, I began playing baseball, and over the course of the next 37 summers, that’s what I did.
 
I played baseball or softball, mostly on very good teams, won my share of championships, made the occasional All-Star team and always, always enjoyed my time on the diamond.
 
There’s something seminal, something authentic about grabbing a bat, digging in, taking a few practice cuts and then, well, it was just the two of you: pitcher versus hitter. It doesn’t get more personal than that.
 
In nearly every other team sport, one-on-one battles are almost always subtly hidden, never so nakedly on display as when you took a deep breath and got ready for the next pitch.
 
“All right,” I’d say to myself. “You can do this.”
 
Of course the guy getting ready to throw the ball was thinking the same thing.
 
See, that’s the game within the game, and there are layers beyond that, the way the defense positions itself, the way the runners take their leads, the count, even the weather.
 
Baseball moves along at its own pace.
 
These days, however, with patience at a premium, it takes a special breed of person to find the rhythm, to get into the groove and to let the action take its own sweet time.
 
Baseball has no clock, which used to be among its virtues. Now those running the game have gotten it into their heads that people need to have something happening all the time, which is just stupid.
 
My thought when it comes to pitch clocks and limited mound visits and starting extra innings with a runner on second base is watch football. It’s timed to death and easy to understand.
 
With baseball you’re invested from the first pitch to the last. You get to know the players and have a grasp of the underlying principles: throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. It’s beautifully simple and maddeningly complex, which makes it unique on the sporting landscape.
 
When I was a kid, there was almost always a game on the radio because Mom had a true fan’s love for her Indians. Jimmy Dudley was among the first voices I recognized outside my immediate circle of family and friends. His comfortable Southern drawl might not have been in the same league as Vin Scully’s or Ernie Harwell’s, but it was more available and so, more real.
 
The Indians were mostly terrible during my Wonder Years, and I remember asking my mother why she even bothered following them. She put down her iron, lowered the volume on the basement radio and imparted another of her myriad lessons.
 
“When you’re a little older,” she said, “you’ll understand. Right now you’re playing, and you’re winning. It won’t always be that way.”
 
Truer words were never spoken. Funny how ever since I hung ’em up after the first summer of the new century, the games I remember most vividly are the ones we lost.
 
My wife, who was a faithful presence in the grandstands for more than 20 seasons, thinks this is a character flaw.
 
“Why can’t you think back on all those games you guys won?” she’ll ask. “Wouldn’t that make you happier?”
 
Maybe so. After all it wouldn’t be the first time she’s been right. Actually she’s always right, which is why we found ourselves sitting behind home plate last Sunday afternoon, taking in the final home game of the local Minor League team, the Down East Wood Ducks, known as the Woodies.
 
I know …
 
When she said we ought to take the 30-minute trip inland to cap off the summer, I was heartened. And then she added the kicker.
 
“After the game,” she said, “anyone can run the bases. I’ll take a video of you on my phone. People will see it on your Facebook page. You’ll have a great time.”
 
That reminded me of Little League Appreciation Day, a tradition at the old Municipal Stadium. It was the summer of 1966, and I’d contracted my annual nasty case of poison ivy, a vicious scourge that made it almost impossible to sleep. Mom made me wear socks on my hands in bed so that I wouldn’t scratch open those oozing pustules during the night.
 
The only time I felt marginally better was when I ran scalding water over the affected areas in the shower. That was almost sinful bliss.
 
Anyway, our manager passed around a sign-up sheet, and I added my name. The bus would leave Saturday morning, and we’d be in Cleveland in time for the opener of a double-header against the Washington Senators.
 
Between games every Little Leaguer in attendance would be able to join a parade of players in a walk around the park including the warning track in the outfield.
 
I was so excited. Imagine being able to actually set foot on a Major League Baseball field! It was beyond great.
 
Of course it was like 90 degrees on the Lakefront, and wearing that heavy woolen uniform, I was suffering serious poison ivy itch. But how many times, I asked myself, would I have a chance like that?
 
Turns out it took more than 50 years, but there I was, running the bases in Kinston, North Carolina, having as much fun as I’ve had in a long time.
 
Mike Dewey can be reached at CarolinamikeD@aol.com">CarolinamikeD@aol.com or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page.
 

Published: September 11, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170909961