Yes–as the current summer fades away and the hot, scorching days come to a halt, I reflect upon my own summer vacations as a kid from long ago; yes, though “Father Time” has left his mark, certain memories still remain vivid. It was the 70’s: no video games/computers to corrupt our minds, no iPods to play our favorite tunes, no legitimate excuses to stay indoors and become nuisances to others. So we spent time outdoors–a LOTTA time, in fact–and the baseball field was our daily destination.
Five or six of us would make the daily trek to the Emmett O’Brien baseball field a bit after noon; a couple of bats (including my Dad’s coveted fungo), a bucket of balls, and our well-oiled baseball gloves would accompany us each day. Oh–refreshments, too, as I recall carrying a gallon jug of water on occasion–half-filled with ice–and/or the 64-ounce bottle of cola that Pepsi used to call “The Boss.” Heat concerns? Nah–the hotter the better as we knew that a cooling dip in Tom’s swimming pool (sometimes Joe’s, too) would comfort us just a few hours later. We’d walk down Bruns Road on the way to the field and see the usual cast of neighborhood characters, i.e. Mrs. M. on her knees weeding dandelions or Mr. G. meticulously trimming his hedges. We’d cross the vacant tennis courts that led to the field and often be greeted by the smell of freshly-mowed grass; yeah, there was no better aroma come summertime. It was time to have fun, boys.
We never played organized games at O’Brien Tech due to the amount of kids involved; it was strictly fly ball shagging which we all grew to love. We’d all take turns being the batter (the dreaded job) for about 30 minutes apiece while the others dispersed in the outfield–some playing deep, some shallow. I always loved to play deep, especially if Tom (a weightlifter) was hitting the balls; boy, he could hit some towering blasts that were so fun to chase–some of them caught while leaning up against the rusting, chain link outfield fence. There was another kind of “shagging,” too, when balls would go OVER the fence; it was then that we all took turns retrieving them while watching the balls roll down the hill toward the neighboring backyards at the bottom of a gully. Funny, though–I never remember anyone complaining while doing the “home run shagging.” Bottom line? Perhaps we all realized there were only so many baseballs to go around. No baseballs, no more shagging. And none of us wore batting gloves, either, and I wonder to this day how our hands didn’t bleed/blister badly with each of us hitting about 200 “fungoes” per day. On second thought, maybe they DID–but we were having way too much fun to complain about any slight discomfort we may have been experiencing at the time.
Looking back, I guess the real fun–at least for yours truly–came from making those nice running catches and acquiring the feeling that I could catch ANY ball that was in my vicinity. I remember that uplifting feeling of “mastering the sky” being SO powerful. Yeah, how cool; I had reached a point where I was catching those “high fly balls” that Bob Murphy talked about on Mets telecasts. What a terrific feeling– being able to “read” the ball once it left the bat; I guess running down a few hundred fly balls per week DID come with a payoff. To this day, even when I catch/judge a fly ball while COACHING baseball, I think back to those many special summer days spent at O’Brien–ones that continue to resonate with joy.
Toward the end of our three-hour-or-so daily “celebration,” we’d all move to the infield for some ground ball practice; yeah, as the hitter, there would now be a sense of relief: it was SO much easier smacking a few grounders than cranking fly balls for 30 minutes. And I recall the infield being SO dry and dusty by around three or four o’clock–and how on windy days the swirling dirt would actually turn to mud on our glistening, sweaty bodies. We’d then remind ourselves that the swimming pool would soon provide some welcomed relief–and also get us “clean” before dinner time. After everyone took their turn hitting grounders, we’d then pack it up for the day–disposing of used bottles/cups and taking inventory of our beat-up baseballs. And if we were missing one or two, Joe would always be there to remind us, “Don’t worry, guys–we’ll find them tomorrow.” And we usually did.
After our soothing swim time, we’d then eat dinner with our families and congregate once again a few hours later to grab a soda at the nearby Hardee’s. We’d pack ourselves into Joe’s Dad’s ’66 Barracuda and soon be “toasting” to another “not-so-lazy” day spent doing what we loved. The best part? Knowing that we’d be doing it ALL OVER again the next day.
Yep, as another summer soon comes to an abrupt end, some memories will just keep on goin’.