Ode to the ‘Ol Ballpark

My usual jogging route through my neighborhood takes me right up to St. Joe’s Park, the place where I, and my older brothers before me, played little league from ages 7 to 14. Today however, I decided to jog a bit further and actually go into the park itself, the first time I’ve looked at it up close in over 20 years.

Whoosh! The feeling of nostalgia and influx of memories was stronger than I anticipated. Being completely alone on a gray morning in a place where I spent so much of my youth was equally enjoyable and forlorn. Leaning up against the fence and staring out over the field where I logged countless innings that felt like ages ago, and yet not so much. If I imagined hard enough, I could actually see myself out there as a kid, hear the echoes of the old P.A. system, see the lights at old Coaches Corner, and hear the annoying, endless buzzing of the air conditioner at the concession stand. Though the park and league are still in operation (going into it’s 76th year), it’s a ghost of it’s own past – my past. This of course, was the park where:

  • At age 4, I tripped over a curb and went headlong into a fencepost, requiring stitches.
  • My 12 year old All Star team won the Zone tournament title (the hottest doubleheader in the history of earth) to advance to the Bronco World Series in Citrus Heights, California.
  • I once hit my Mom in the stands with a foul ball and still feel guilty about it to this day.
  • I threw a complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts for my team’s only regular-season victory when I was 14.
  • My teammate, Dan Markun and I each hit two homeruns in the same game and were staged to mimic the Canseco/McGwire “Bash Brothers” pose for the local newspaper photo. Beyond cheesy.
  • My second homer from the above story came on a knuckleball at the end of an extremely long at-bat, and right after the catcher promised me I was about to strike out. As I cockily walked down the first base line, I said “nice pitch man!” to the pitcher. The one and only time I ever talked trash on the field.
  • My grade school team, St. Raymond, completely dominated the entire season en route to a State Championship when I was in 8th grade. Many say the greatest team in IESA history.
  • You were a local legend if you put a home run on the roof of Bailey’s, the store in right center field, or hit one over the Greeen Monster in center. I did this twice.
  • I learned to absolutely loathe John Fogerty’s Centerfield, when it was played over the P.A. no less than 6,938 times during my 12-year old All Star season.

I often wish I would’ve viewed the game then the same way I do now…I may have played well after High School. I could go on forever blabbing this anecdotal material and perhaps I will expound upon some in a later post(s), but the essence of what I felt this morning was about the connection to the past and the fond retrospection of youth that baseball, specifically the ballpark itself, can provide. Like no other sport’s field, rink, or court of play, an old ballpark has a hauntingly charming atmosphere that should be revered. I was reminded of this today in full force.

It doesn’t have to have an altar and stained glass windows to be considered a church.

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