AUTHOR’S NOTE: I‘ve told this story a few times over the years. It should probably stand as my Father’s Day and summertime post for the rest of my days.
Probably no little kid wanted to play Little League Baseball more than I did. That might seem like an exaggeration. I don’t think so. If not, then it is a short list, especially these days.
This all occurred for me back around 1968 ’69 and ’70, just about the time a kid really starts to understand a few things. It’s a time of obsession and success and disappointment. It’s when we first learn to be either eager or cautious. In this case, I had more of the former and not enough of the latter.
My mom and dad had plenty of the latter. They understood when caution might be the smarter course. So for awhile I wasn’t even allowed to think about trying out for any of the local Little League teams sponsored by civic clubs of Rotarians, Jaycees or Lions. My vision then and now is terrible and then some. In my left eye, glasses can only get me to 20/40. The right is simply dead. The optic nerve is shot. A hazard of birth. My mom was terrified that I’d take a liner in my only good eye and walk the earth in darkness thereafter. To her the risk wasn’t worth it. I disagreed. Sometimes I disagreed with great . . . gusto.
But at age 11, and after watching my little brother play organized ball for two years and begging my mom and dad relentlessly, they let me become eligible for the Little League draft in the nearby town of Walnut Cove, where I was already playing Pop Warner football and my condition was well known.
It was no coincidence that I was drafted by the team sponsored through the Lions Club, the organization dedicated to serving those with visual difficulties. My grandfather and uncles were heavily involved in the Lions. And I was a pretty fair player on their Pop Warner football team. They wanted to give me a shot.
The first day of practice at the red clay field at Walnut Cove Grammar School fell on an overcast afternoon. After 10 minutes of throwing the balls around they took on the red hue of the field. I had no chance. I spent about 30 minutes in the field and don’t remember seeing one ball. I wasn’t a defensive player. I was a target.
When the coach called me in to bat, he came in 10 or so feet closer from the pitching rubber and tossed the ball in softly. I smacked it back up the middle. He backed up and threw it harder. Of the 20 pitches I saw, I hit a dozen, at least five or six hard.
My dad appeared from nowhere as practice came to an end. I heard him talking to the coach. “He’s better than I thought he would be,” the coach said.
That night my dad sat me down at our kitchen table and told me I couldn’t go back. It was simply too dangerous.
It was the first time I ever saw him cry.
EPILOGUE: Eventually at age 12 and 13 (the latter one year over the age limit, but I was given a break because I was the half-blind kid) I played for a team in its first seasons in my hometown of Danbury. I wore a half facemask created for basketball players when I took the field. I let my baseball career end there, comfortable in the fact that I played at all. No images exist of my playing baseball but I will share this photo of me with my dad. I first started wearing glasses at age 6 months. Clearly I needed them.