Early childhood memories are faint, but every boy can recall his first major-league baseball game. He can remember the score, who hit the home run, who pitched. But mostly he remembers his father. The smell of his aftershave is wrapped up in the smells of baseball – the freshly cut grass, the summer air, the hot dogs, the stale popcorn, the spilled beer, the over-oiled glove complete with the baseball breaking in the pocket. He remembers the visiting team, the way the team tossed grounders to warm up the guy at short, the way the hecklers made gentle fun of the TV commercials, the way the game’s greats rounded second and slid headfirst into third. You remember your sibling keeping stats, studying the lineups the way rabbinical scholars study the Talmud, baseball cards gripped in your hand, the ease and pace of a slow summer afternoon, Mom spending more time sunning herself than watching the action. You remember Dad buying you a pennant of the visiting team and later hanging it on your wall in a ceremony equal to the Celtics raising a banner in the old Boston Garden. You remember the way the players in the bullpen looked so relaxed, big wads of chew distorting their cheeks. You remember your healthy, respectful hate for the visting team’s superstars, the pure joy of going on Bat Day and treasuring that piece of wood as tough it;s come straight from Honus Wagner’s locker.
Show me a boy who didn’t dream of being a big leaguer before age 7, before Training League or whatever slowly began to thin the herd in one of life’s earliest lessons that the world can and will disappoint you. Show me a boy who doesn’t remember wearing his Little League cap to school when the teachers would allow it, keeping it pitched high with a favourite base ball card tucked inside, wearing it to the dining table, sleeping with it on the night table next to the bed,. Show me a boy who doesn’t remember playing catch with his Dad on the weekends, or better, on those precious summer nights when Dad would rush home from his job, shake off his work clothes, put on a T-shirt that was always a little too small, grab a mitt, and head into the backyard before the final rays faded away. Show me a boy who didn’t stare in awe at how far his Dad could hit or throw a baseball – no matter bad an athlete his Dad was, and for that shining moment Dad was transformed into a man of unimaginable ability and strength.
Only baseball has that magic.
From The Final Detail, a book by Harlan Coben