As we begin to move into spring I find my self in an oddly cheerful place. Stay with me, I know how that sounded. Spring is, for most of us, a time of rebirth, life, possibility. I understand all that, and to some extent share in that sense of hope. Being of eastern European heritage, I’m also able to find a place for darker rumination on promise and dreams unrealized. Which is important for a Jew. Where would my people be without a dark cloud to safeguard us from the glare of a too sunny sky. By now I imagine you’re a step ahead of me, and can see that this leading where all things eventually do; to baseball.
As a little boy I dreamt only of being a major league catcher when I grew up. If you’re the kind of pest who needs to know whether or not I had the talent to support that sort of fantasy the short answer is obviously not. A more nuanced response would be that for a brief period of time, I could really hit. Not make good contact for an eight or nine year old kid, but really swing a bat. When I was ten I struck out seven times in twenty two games. When I was eleven I hit a drive over 240 feet to straight away centerfield. When I was twelve I averaged over .500 for the season. Even in a mediocre league those were not small achievements. It was all hand-eye coordination as I was never more than average size for my age. I made the league all-star team even though my father not only wasn’t a coach, but frequently missed my games. And then things took a turn. When registering me to play for the season in which I was thirteen years old, my father made an odd decision. Instead of allowing me my last time in the 10-13 age bracket, he moved me to the 14-16 year old group. Did I mention that I was not a big kid? Not since Samson got a buzz cut has an icon of Hebraic strength taken such a precipitous fall. I’d go into agonizing detail but that’s really for a time when I’m actually wallowing in genuine misery instead of just playing at it. What can I say. I was too physically immature to have acne, no less muscles. The kids I was up against were a lot bigger than me. And shaving. And playing under assumed names too avoid child support payments. Didn’t go well. That was my final involvement with anything more organized than a post hangover softball game here and there. Realistically I understand that if I was of serious talent I would have been able to handle it anyway. Still, there’s a moment every March when I slip into “what if” motif for a few minutes and think about how nice it would have been if my teen years had kept apace. The reason for this is not hard to see. In less than a month the guys who had the gifts I could only wish for will be playing ball, and I will be watching them do it. I will not be suiting up. The impact of the sport on my life is significant. Baseball has always been more than a favored pastime to me. As an interest which holds an almost religious place in my mind it has been a source of comfort at some very low times in my life. On rare occasion (Met fan) it has been at the center of incredible joy. If you’re a reader of my previous work it has had an ongoing role in my writing, both as subject (Dr. Norwood + T.J. Rivera = Better MLB), and reference (Tyler Kepner; Trump’s Best Hope For 2020). I have mentioned it enough and in enough ways that my longing apparently has been picked up by one person who was kind enough to share a few words of encouragement with me. As I’ve been told numerous times my writing has a pronounced tendency to lean in sarcastic direction so I thought I would take this opportunity to share something atypically upbeat.*
“My dear Mr. Goldberg,
I’ve been a fan of your work for some time now. I feel like we have so much in common. Like you I have a commitment to speaking truth to power. I learned a long time ago that brutally honest self assessment was the only path I could walk in this life. At the same time I came to realize that it was of equal importance to keep my dreams alive and define myself and life in a way that could most authentically represent the real me. With that in mind I just wanted to drop you a note of encouragement. You shouldn’t give up on seeing yourself as a ball player. If that’s what you know you are then that’s the way the world will have to see you. You, not the cruel dictates of your birth, define who you are. What matters is not the flimsy three dimensional circumstances of your physical being, but the reality you identify with.
The activist formally known as WRD (white Rachel Dolezal)
P.S. Sorry about the crayon, but they won’t give me anything with a point.”
*I saw her stupid face on the television today and realized we were out of Pepto Bismol. Wrote this to avoid projectile vomiting.