I have realized my errant ways, and I am repenting. Pardon me Father for I have sinned. It has been 10 years since I last wore my Dodgers hat.
How have I gone from baseball heretic to born again fan in less than 24 hours? Two words: Tommy Lasorda.
Tuesday afternoon I decided to go to the Morse College Master’s Tea with the former Dodgers Manager. I remember idolizing him in my Little League days, and then watching him evolve into a commercial personality for Slim Fast. His feisty spirit was often a model of inspiration for our hometown Longwood Dodgers.
Tommy first showed a highlight video of his career, which culminated with him leading the U.S. baseball team to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. Within the first few minutes of the video, I felt goose bumps. My love of baseball was returning. The images of Tommy’s career brought back my own images of the old days — snow cones, team parties, late afternoon practices in the Florida dusk.
I used to wear my tattered blue baseball hat everywhere. The pristine white lettering had turned a brownish tint, and orange dirt spots were omnipresent.
When I wore the hat to a San Francisco restaurant, I was almost thrown out. The waiter was obviously a Giants fan. During the night, I would sleep with the hat and a wooden baseball bat. I was constantly suffering from a bad case of hat hair. I was eight, and I had dreams of the major leagues. I wanted to be a Los Angles Dodger.
For six years, I played for the Longwood Dodgers in the Seminole Pony Baseball League. The dugout was our home — a place where we traded cards, chewed bubblegum, and perfected the professional baseball spit. We were brothers playing in the summer time swelter, teammates in the brisk mornings of winter, and friends in the days of spring practice. We had nicknames like “Bushman,” “Wheels,” “GoGo,” and “C.J.”
Baseball was light-hearted fun. A win was a time of high-fives and free snow cones; a loss meant momentary disappointment followed by free snow cones. Just when the fence seemed close and a home run possible, we moved to a different level, from tee-ball to coach pitch to kid pitch.
Baseball was a four-day-a-week commitment with two practices and two games. Our parents were the coaches, carpool, concession stand workers, and umpires. At times, baseball seemed like our only worry, a world within itself. But it was during a baseball game that we learned of Operation Desert Storm.
We played on Election Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween. There was never any question what we would be for Halloween. We would leave the fields and go trick-or-treating in our dirt-stained Dodgers uniforms.
But at some point baseball lost its kick. The base hits, the snow cones, the nicknames were overshadowed by competitive coaches, screaming parents, and four-letter words. The baseball games were replaced with tennis lessons. ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” was traded for homework, skateboarding, and WWF.
The baseball hat became buried in the closet, along with my dreams of making the Majors.
The past 10 years I have been a cynic of baseball, refusing to even follow the game’s top figures. I cringed during the baseball strike of the 1990s, the home run derby between Mark and Sammy, and the Yankees’ World Championships. I only watched the last 15 minutes of the World Series this year.
But Lasorda’s dominant personality and motivating words reignited my passion for the sport.
The night before I left to come to college I drove around Longwood, Fla., with my friend Jennifer. Somehow, we ended up at the Little League baseball fields where I played as a child. I don’t know what drew me to these hallowed grounds of manicured grass and bright lights. Maybe I wanted this to be the last thing I saw before Yale, before my uncertain future.
So, I again return to these fields of laughter, high-fives, and home runs in my mind. Thanks, Tommy. The hat has returned, tattered, but still Dodger blue. If only there was a fall intramural baseball season, I could put it to good use.