I remember the look of the lights shining on the fields at night; especially, the baseball and football fields. The light on the green grass, the natural scent of the cool night air, and even the occasional moth all bring back very fond memories from my youth. When I pass a high school athletic field at night with all the lights shining down and a game going on, I am reminded of when I attended the games of an American Legion baseball team as a kid. Originally, I went just to watch my brother play. Later, I became the batboy for the team. This was back when I was around 8-10 years old.
The first year or two, just being at the games was a treat. I would be ecstatic every time someone hit a foul ball. There were some woods not far behind the dugout and it was a blast competing with the other kids to find the ball. Even though it was night, the lights were bright enough to penetrate far enough into the woods to make it possible to find most foul balls. The feeling was incredible when I spotted that white orb among the trees. Sometimes, I was even allowed to operate the scoreboard, with supervision of course. It felt great to toggle on and off the strikes, balls, outs, and up the inning and score.
As a batboy, the dugout was fun. I enjoyed the salty taste of the sunflower seeds as I chewed them and spit them out on the ground. What really thrilled me was getting to wear the same uniform as the team. I thought it looked so cool. I remember Big League Chew gum. Grape was my favorite flavor. It may have been too great because I really wanted to eat it, not just chew it. I loved grabbing a few fingers full of purple gum strands from the bag and popping them in my mouth. I even loved the baseball player character art on the bag. Of course, there was also Bazooka gum. Reading and collecting the little comic strips that came with the wrapper was great. I got to read all about the adventures of Bazooka Joe while enjoying the bubble gum.
One year, our team not only won the playoffs, but won the state championship. I cannot even describe how thrilled it made me. It was a double elimination tournament and we were one loss away from being eliminated. And, we were facing the same team that beat us the first time. But, we overcame them to win it all. We went on to be eliminated early on from the regionals, but I was just so happy about winning the state championship and having the team I was attached to being known as the best in the entire state that it didn’t bother me at all. Traveling with the team on the bus to and from away games was also very interesting. I clowned around and was clowned on. There were a few embarrassing moments here and there for sure, but I recall the overall experience being wonderful. We often stopped at a McDonald’s or Burger King on the way home. Even that was a blast.
When I was old enough to play in Little League, I played several positions. Seeing the lush, green grass and the spectacle of the lights made playing outfield enjoyable, even if there wasn’t quite as much action as the infield. I loved playing infield as well, but for different reasons. Getting ready in the on-deck circle never failed to get my heart racing and give my stomach butterflies. I always counted how many batters there were before it was my turn again. It was a nervous, anticipatory energy to be sure. I even remember the excitement of being at the plate and checking the 3rd base coach to give me signs about what to do with the next pitch. The games weren’t the only part of baseball I loved. Having my father throw me batting practice is something I will always remember fondly. Later, when I reached high school level ball, I still had some fun, but it never compared to the joy of those earlier years.