Warehouse Windows

This novel was inspired by years of following baseball as a Mets fan, interning with the Minor League New Jersey Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles, and culminating with landing a dream job with the New York Mets. These posts are some of those moments and events that inspired me.

Friends and Baseball

Ungerman Field, the Hopatcong Little League field, Helen Morgan, Jefferson Trail Park. They were my fields of dreams as a kid. There was no corn around these fields. Just trees, a couple of houses, and poison ivy (although one was in the center of town). Nonetheless, they were where I learned how to play baseball … Not very well, I might say, but where I learned.

Sometimes I’d play with my brother. Once or twice, my dad. However, most of the time it was with my friends, Erik, Eric, Bill, and Chris. Occasionally, PJ would join us or someone else.

We tried to get to the fields whenever we could. It seemed like too often we got pushed off for Little League practices or something like that. However, on our days off from school or sometimes after school or on an occasional weekend, we would ride our bikes or get a ride from our moms to one of the fields and just play as much as we could.

They were some great times and I loved every moment of it. Rarely were there more than 4 or 5 of us, so we would have to get creative with how we played. Sometimes, it was just batting practice, pitching, and fielding. Sometimes just home run derby. Sometimes we played overly complicated rules to try to get the feel of real gameplay.

Erik was the best player out of our group, by far. And sometimes I liked to pretend I could get a pitch by him, but more often than not, we would have to look around in the poison ivy and weeds on the other side of the fence for the ball.

The other Eric would probably read this and disagree and make some sarcastic comment. He definitely was a good athlete and certainly was the next best out of all of us, but his best talent was getting us to laugh at ourselves. It kept us from taking ourselves too seriously or getting too intense.

Chris (“Fitz”) and I were sort of in the same “league” when it came to our talent. Fitz, I think, probably preferred to be home playing his guitar than playing baseball, but I believe he liked being out there with us. He had some good power when he made contact and would occasionally crush a ball. His house was the starting point of the infamous early morning in the freezing cold at Ungerman Field story in the last chapter. One of us had to be somewhere that day, so we were trying to squeeze some baseball in while we had a chance. It was interesting being out there in the cold at 7 or 8 AM, watching people driving to work. It could not have been any warmer than 30 degrees, but we were still out there, playing in the cold, almost afraid to make contact with the ball because of how much it hurt our frozen hands.

Bill would become my best friend through the later years of high school. I honestly struggle trying to remember how he was at baseball. I have an image of him in my mind standing at bat waiting on a pitch from me, but when I try to remember beyond that, my memory gets flooded with so many discussions he and I would have about the Mets and school and the New York Giants and lots of other subjects. We were in some of the same classes together, so there were a lot of discussions about various things when we probably should have been paying attention in class.

I was probably the worst player in our group at the plate. I always swung too early or too late, but I felt like I made up for it in the field. I felt like I had a pretty good glove and could read and catch up to the ball pretty well. I like to think I had a pretty accurate arm. However, even as I write this I can picture my old friends reading this and laughing at just how awful I must have been. As I think of them now, I can picture their faces as if they were still in their teens, laughing.

When I think of PJ, I always think of the Yankees. We weren’t really the best of friends, but aside from a couple of incidents, we got along. There was one time that I can remember him joining us for baseball and it really stuck with me. During that time, he was the only one of my friends that wasn’t a Mets fan. He was a staunch defender of the Yankees, despite them being really bad during that time and while we were playing baseball, he was standing up to the rest of us and our put-downs of his team. I had only ever known a good Mets team at that point, so I was puzzled at how someone could continue to stick with a bad team. In the years since, as I have endured one misery at the hands of the Mets after another I make it a point to still support and defend my team, even in the worst of times. It was a lesson PJ taught me.

It’s funny to me to think about all of us playing baseball after 30 plus years. While what their faces looked like exactly in high school is a bit fuzzy, in my mind I can remember each of their batting stances, exactly. Pitching to them, I can clearly remember how they held the bat, the position of their arms, the bends (or lack of) in their knees. Erik liked to mimic lots of MLB player stances (Darryl Strawberry being his favorite), but I remember his stance when he was being serious.

Through the years we would go to a few Mets games together. There was nothing like that feeling of freedom when we were able to go to that first game at Shea on our own, without parents. I think the first might have been one of the Banner Day games and I can still feel the flutter of excitement in my chest when I think about preparing for that game the night before. The times with them were some of my favorite moments at Shea, even including when I worked there through the playoffs and World Series.

I would have loved to play baseball in high school. However, it wasn’t until the 1986 Mets that I had any interest in the game and I was already 13. I also spent 3rd grade through 8th grade dealing with a cyst in the bone of my right arm, causing me to break it twice and eventually leading to an operation to fix it, so I wasn’t allowed to do anything sportswise.

So, baseball, as a future, was not something that was destined for me, at least not on the field. However, playing the game with my friends obviously had a huge influence on me. I like to think not being able to play it on an organized team allowed me to observe it better and appreciate the game more. That could be me just consoling myself, but I can’t imagine how my life may be different now … the things I would have missed out on, had I been able to play the game.

As I look back, now, the early development of my love of baseball was through my friends (and parents). Even in later years, I never enjoyed baseball as much as I did when I was enjoying it with friends, whether they were people I worked with or old friends who I joined in the right fields seats at Camden Yards or the Center Field bleachers at Shea Stadium when I could break away from work for a few minutes. Those are sacred moments for me and influenced the path my life would take.

What I wouldn’t give to have the chance to play baseball with my high school friends, again.

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