Growing up, my plan was to be a professional baseball player. It’s written plain as day in my own careful handwriting in a little scrapbook my mother kept, along with report cards and school pictures and other worthless trivia that I never tire of revisiting.
My grandmother once told me that my grandfather had the same ambition: “He would have rather played ball than ate,” she said, disregarding the rules of grammar while waxing poetic nonetheless.
But living on a farm miles from town and a half-mile more or less from the nearest neighbor made it difficult to put together a daily pickup game like my friends in town. And with three younger sisters more attracted to Barbie than baseball, it was left to me to figure out a way to play.
So the best place for a 10-year-old to play a summer baseball game in my little portion of Detroit Lakes, Minn., was in my head.
I spent many a summer evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day positioned on a progressively less grassy patch in front of our kitchen window, listening to Halsey Hall and Herb Carneal bring Minnesota Twins games to life on the radio.
With a rubber ball, a glove and my ever-present Twins baseball cap, I took the mound after the National Anthem and worked my way back and forth through the visitors’ batting order and then the Twins’. If Walter “No-Neck” Williams of the White Sox hit a towering fly to deep center field, I tossed the ball against our house’s thin wood siding at just the angle needed to create a pop fly to my own center field, located just east of our swingset, which also doubled as a makeshift (and rather painful) warning track in front of the hedge/outfield fence.
If I didn’t successfully execute the play on the first try, I was an instant-replay pioneer, trying again and again until I made the play happen in my front yard just as I heard it happen on the ballfield.
Even the pros make an error from time to time, and over the years, I shattered a few kitchen windowpanes with off-target throws. My parents took the blows in stride; I guess they were grateful I was outside keeping myself busy rather than inside complaining about being bored (that part of parenting hasn’t changed).
Looking back on those summer days when I had nothing better to do than play baseball with myself, I can still almost smell the grass and see the early-evening sun dropping from the blue-and-white-twirled sky like a lazy fly ball.
It wasn’t the kind of summer activity that would get me into an Ivy League school, and wouldn’t really look that good on my resume. It wasn’t character-building or educational or even useful, particularly by today’s hard-core parenting standards.
But it was random, aimless summer fun that required imagination, burned off energy and left me feeling happy and entertained and full of hope and dreams.