Sunday, April 6, 2014

Broken-down dreams




When I was a kid, I had a very specific and vivid daydream … of growing up to play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.

There was only one problem, as far as I could tell:  The Cardinals were owned by Anheuser-Busch, a beer-making company, and the Cardinal players were sometimes pictured drinking beer—or pouring foamy bottles of it over each other’s heads.

That was sort of an issue for me because my family was against drinking any type of alcohol, or wearing t-shirts with beer logos, or even kidding around about that kind of stuff.

And beer tasted terrible, from what I’d heard.

But that was the only problem I could foresee.  Otherwise, I was pretty sure I could make it to the big leagues (and that my friends Gregg and Scott could make it in the NFL and PGA, respectively).

So, setting the drinking issue aside, I decided to practice as much as possible.  Because, if you practiced hard enough, you could achieve anything you wanted.

So I’d stand in my front yard for hours, Rawlings glove on one hand and tennis ball in the other.  Sun beating down on me until my palms were thick with sweat.  I’d take a full wind up from the sidewalk and aim my pitch at the stairs on our front porch.  If I hit the riser—the tall forward-facing part of the step—the ball would come back at me lightning-quick as a ground ball.  If I nailed the tread—the part you actually stepped on—the ball would fly through the air as a popup.  Wherever the tennis ball ricocheted, I’d chase it down and fire it over to “first base”.

I was going to be the next Ken Reitz.

First base, by the way, was a metal vent at the base of our porch.  If I threw the ball accurately, it would make a sweet-sounding “plink” and the imaginary runner would be “out”.

(Over the course of several “games” the vent started to become flat and smooth, resembling an aluminum cookie sheet.  When my father discovered the vent transformation—how shall I put this?—he was none too pleased.)

While I played these games, college students would pass by my house on their way to the Old Married Students Apartments.  They’d see me whipping the tennis ball around, and they’d nod and smile and say “Hello.”  They could tell that I was something special, that I was going to make it big someday.

And so I kept after it.  Full windup and then the pitch:

Whoosh
Pow!
Whoosh
Plink!

I’d lose myself in the rhythm of it.

And, of course, there was a lot of real baseball stuff too … like playing catch with my brother or dad.  We’d exchange ground balls and popups and—the most difficult thing of all—short-hops.  Oh how I hated those short-hops.

And, as if that weren’t enough … I played endless games of Wiffle® Ball in the neighborhood.  I played on summer baseball teams.  I wore ball caps all the time.  I constantly watched baseball on TV.  I listened to Jack Buck broadcast Cardinal games on the radio.  I drew pictures of baseball players with captions like “Hot shot at the hot corner”.  I even made plans to go to David Lipscomb University, a school that I’d heard had a terrific baseball program.

I did everything I knew to do to become a pro player.  And then, one day, I realized I probably wasn’t going to make it.

Searcy Little League had just announced 2 all-star teams for the end of the summer.  As I looked over the rosters and talked to other players, I realized that I had made the “B” squad … that I wasn’t quite as good as a thought I was … that I’d probably never play for the Cards.

And I took that broken-down dream and slowly pushed it to the side of the road.

***

And now—a good many years later—I look in my mind’s rearview mirror and see a number of those rusting hulks of dreams.  Some of them are antiques by now.  And honestly, it can make me feel a little sad.  Or to use one of my mom’s occasional words:  “melancholy”.

And yet on a good day, I can wake up with my head full of gray hair and a pair of bifocals on my face and think that maybe I spent too much time dreaming about the wrong things.  That maybe my life was influenced too much by Joe Garagiola and Star Wars and Magnum P.I.  That maybe there were better dreams to be dreamed ...

Like finding myself … 

In the midst of a loving family
Surrounded by good neighbors
Working a job that I (mostly) enjoy
With a handful of really good old friends
And
A God who cares for me unconditionally.

That maybe these were the things I should have been dreaming about.

That a good number of my dreams really did come true.

Photo from a 1970s Arkansas Travelers' scorecard.

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