It was nearly thirty years ago that my Mom gave me a Minnesota Twins' yearbook. A couple of weeks later we watched the local team get hammered two games in a row by those dreaded Yankees on our family's new 10 inch black and white TV. I didn't place a lot of significance on these events at the time even though they would change me probably more significantly than any other up to the day that Mom died.
A few weeks after being exposed to baseball my brother and I went out in the backyard with a plastic bat, a tennis ball, and a brick garage wall backstop, and mimicked what we had seen and taken careful note of. I think I did a fairly mean imitation of Bert Blyleven's wind up, complete with tongue hanging out of the right side of my mouth- if only I had his curve ball. My brother did a passable version of a limping Tony Oliva, complete with left heel lifted off the ground. Mom watched from the upstairs kitchen window with amusement at what we had chosen to pick up from watching our first games.
Soon, every bit of my allowance money was spent on our baseball card collection. I loved collecting those cards and could tell you every last statistic about all the Twins from Larry Hisle to Joe Lis. My first hero was Sir Rodney Cline Carew, the moody superstar from Panama. I loved the way he seemingly could flick the ball at will with his bat anywhere he damn well wanted to. I loved the way he glided as he ran. I loved the way he threw the ball so fluently.
All of the following summers up until the time my brother moved away to college were spent in the backyard playing ball. There was a period we got together with our friends and played actual games down at Acorn Park. I lived, breathed, and loved baseball, watching it, studying it, and playing it.
One of the true benefits of going to work for the state was that my office (the secretary of state) had a softball team and I got to join and finally play the game again after a few years off. My second year with the team was the one I enjoyed most, when my dear friend Alex played. We drove to the games together and I'll never ever forget the game when a big burly slob hit a deep fly ball at a crucial point of a game out towards right center where the admirably competitive Alex was stationed. She raced to the right spot as I semi-closed my eyes at this seemingly significant moment. She stuck out her glove out at the last possible moment and caught the ball. The other team groaned and Alex did the most wonderfully merry jig I have ever seen a human being do. It was a great moment.
Years later after someone dropped the ball the SOS team didn't get into the league and my Dad scrambled to find me another team to play on. I ended up playing on my Uncle's wife's brother's team in Shoreview aptly named the Roundheads. These guys were all about ten to twenty to thirty years older than me but they could all play ball.
When the SOS got another team going the next year I got to play on two different teams. Two nights of softball. Seven nights of still living and dying (mostly dying at this point) with the Twins. My parents made it a point to attend just about all my games. I can't forget the moment I was playing second for the Roundheads and Dick Reiter was the shortstop and there was a guy on first with one out and the batter hit a grounder to Dick and I went to cover the base but he decided to take things himself and try and make the double play alone and failed to do so. After the game my Mom came over mad at the play Dick had made, fully confident I would've turned two and saved the game.
I mention all this because I recently found out I most likely won't be playing softball this season. My option wasn't picked up by any team. I'm 37 and my skills, which admittedly were never all that great (other than I ran like the wind) have shown some wear and tear. One of the most depressing things about the past few years is noticing that I'm now older than every player on the Twins' roster. And while it's inspiring to see players like Ruben Sierra, Julio Franco, and Jose Rijo reappear and make remarkable comebacks this late (in baseball years) in their lives I doubt there will be any team seeking my services anywhere down the road. When it comes to aging I've been about as successful as Ozzy Osbourne and the daily agenda these days is a matter of making do, the best I can.