Monday, July 09, 2007

Altar Boys, Baseball, and more

Well, I spent the 4th in Wenonah. Chris DeHart and Dot Chattin and Suzy Parker have filled me with memories that will be addressed. But for now I thought it would be good to talk about vocations and recreation. My parents volunteered me to be an altar boy at the Church of the Incarnation when I was in 3rd Grade. it was winter and I went several times a week to learn the rituals of the mass. When to ring the bells, when to fetch the wine and host. We learned our pieces of the mass. It was Latin then. Ad deum qui latificat juventutem meum. The first words of the mass.
We learned our places before the altar. We were issued our robes and prepared to serve mass.
As I completed my training it was time to try out for minor league hardball in Wenonah. We played for American Legion Post 109 and all or most of the boys in town that were 8 years old turned out for tryouts. We ran down flies, caught line drives, ran bases, and in general embarrassed ourselves. I sucked.
After two weeks they announced those boys who would join the team. My name was not included. My brother's was. I was devastated. I rode my bike home in tears. Hours later my father came to me to say there was a mistake. It was me that should have been named. I was so happy. In retrospect I think this was all bullshit. I think, because I know I sucked and my brother didn't, that they really picked my younger brother. I think my father prevailed upon them to put me on the team and they did.
Because baseball conflicted with some elements of serving mass I had to resign my post as an altar boy. I was not sad. It seemed weird and stupid and strange and I much preferred right field to standing in front of the throne of God.
And right field was where I went.
When you stink in baseball and you're young you get right field. That's because young batters have trouble hitting to the opposite field and there aren't many left handers. This means you spend your time standing in the outfield in terror that someone will hit the ball to you.
The good part was no one ever put me in the game. This was before the time when kids were played routinely regardless of skill levels. In the early sixties if you stunk you didn't play unless your team was either killing the other team or so far behind it couldn't hurt. There was no eleven run rule.
I got two at bats that year. I had a baggy thick woolen uniform that I loved. I had a Ted Kluszewski autographed model glove and I cherished it with all my heart. It had been my father's.
I was horrible but I loved sitting in the dugout and I loved chatter in the outfield. Come batter, come batter, batter. He can't hit, he can't hit, he can't hit.
I love practicing sliding, I loved catching ground balls and I eventually could catch flies. What I couldn't do was throw for distance. Thank God for cut off men.
So my brother Mick had to wait a year to be a better player than me. And God had to wait a bit more for me to serve Him.
But I learned the crack of the bat, the smell of neatsfoot oil, the cold sodas we got at Margies after a game. Digging deep in the cooler for a grape or pineapple soda. Hanging around with boys who played baseball better than you but still there. Still in the game.

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