Thursday April 18, 2013

PITTSFIELD

If there is one thing that bothers me more than a chilly month of March, it’s a chilly month of April. Like the parent of a child who might be maturing a bit behind the curve, I try very hard to be patient with March. But if April cares to test me in a similar way, then my patience wanes.

I always looked at April as a month of change. The basketball games on the blacktop would continue, but in April it would be complemented by baseball on the healthy green grass, which if still soggy from a misty March would soon be runway smooth and firm.

The park grass was cut often in April. But the ball chased down after being walloped by the local park slugger seemed always to be retrieved from within a field of high grass littered by the golden glitter that was a thousand dandelions. You learned to keep your eye on the ball out there in the acreage of the outfield or else you might lose sight of its location and be left standing foolishly amid that field of yellow weeds while the slugger defiantly toured the bases.

The girls had it good. They stayed on the blacktop and kept their pretty shoes and clean socks pristine by simply skipping rope. Sometimes two would spin a long rope round and round while one or two skipped within. Other times they had their own rope and jumped by themselves. Obesity issues? Not then, it seemed.


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Something as simple as a pretty rope, a silly song, some imagination and a little initiative could beat that monster back.

And when the occasional foul ball landed near where they were playing, the girls were more than happy to retrieve it for the boys. It was social interaction of the most positive kind.

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Warm Aprils were important for the young sandlot baseball players. Wet fields could do great damage to the actual baseballs. Everyone had a ball, but not everyone wanted to share the ball with others in the early part of the season. Once a baseball had found a puddle or rolled through the wet grass it would become unusable until another day, and even then it just wasn’t quite the same. It had a crusty and heavy feel and really needed to be rubbed hard and often to get close to its former self.

So, we all brought our bats and gloves. Few, though, would risk their baseballs early in the spring. We’d send the kids home to look for baseballs used the previous summer. If you had been given a new ball at Christmas or been handed a new glossy-white,
high-stitched sphere by your dad or an uncle, that ball would not make its debut until May, June
or even later.

There was no pain greater in those days than putting that first scuff mark on a brand new baseball. You warmed up on the blacktop with a simple soft toss, trying so hard to be accurate with each throw that the idea of splitting an atom would be considered child’s play.

Don’t overthrow and don’t let the ball get behind you where it could then roll across the cold tar and surely find the nearest and deepest puddle. And don’t lose your new ball. Don’t foul one over the fence and into the overgrown field. Don’t send one into the neighbor’s yard where you have been told to stay out.

We’d spend an hour in the field looking for a foul ball, it meant that much to us not to lose it. But the neighbors we’d work with until a compromise was reached. And by mid-summer things had progressed so well on that front that they would leave their hoses hooked up to the backyard faucet so that we could sneak a drink when the hot July sun would melt our spirits and fortitude.

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If March was a lion and April its kin, then we might take the gloves and baseballs right out in front of the house and throw on the street. Somebody’s transistor radio would always be close enough to be able to either listen to a ball game or the top songs of the day. And if everything else was wet, then the road was at least dry and if the sun was out you might get a hint of its warmth if it could find you through the high roofs and tall trees.

But, again, don’t let the ball get behind you because it would surely take a direction for one of those city street sewers. I chased down many baseballs just before they rolled over the grate and into the darkness of that hole.

If there wasn’t a puddle at the bottom of the sewer, and sometimes even if there was, we would lift that grate off its foundation and try to lower the smallest kid in the neighborhood down to retrieve the ball. Or a bigger kid would go down headfirst while we held his feet. Or we’d get a rake and fish the ball out. The bottom of those sewers were scary places.

No one ever wanted to give up a ball. A sewer in the city is not the place for a baseball to pay the ultimate price. And by all means never leave your glove outside in a rainstorm. It was nothing less than traumatic when in the morning you realized that your mitt was not in its usual place. The sickening feeling you get when you realize it’s still outside is one not to be repeated. Especially if you drifted to sleep that night to the pitter-patter of raindrops on your roof.

I always knew where my glove was. I placed it under my pillow at night. It was right next to my transistor radio, which I played just loud enough to hear through the pillow. If I was lucky, then maybe I’d catch a Pirates game from the West Coast on KDKA or the tail end of a Red Sox game and listen to big Dick Radatz close out the game for the Beantowners. If there was no game, then I’d try WKBW out of Buffalo, N.Y., and hope they would play "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison.

Knowing that the glove was with me and secure helped me sleep well. And visions of warm Aprils would dance in my head through a restful night.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at mariavicsullivan@yahoo.com.