“The Catch”

Yesterday was one of the best Saturdays of my life—I served as an assistant coach for my 5-year-old son’s little league team.

I know … I know—enter the cliches. Warm days and green grass and the sound of bat against ball. Well, uh … yeah. All those things exist. Yet, really, it was much more. My son takes tennis lessons, and he sorta digs them. My son plays soccer, and he sorta digs it, too. Baseball, however, really seemed to grip the boy. He liked putting on his purple No. 2 shirt and the matching hat. He liked standing in the field and kicking up dust. He liked charging for the ball, stopping it and throwing (wildly) to first. Mostly, I think he liked having his old man standing by him, cheering him and his teammates on, complimenting every move, explaining the little rules.

As these things tend to do, I was returned to my own boyhood, growing up on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y. I was a Little League ballplayer for, oh, eight years, and some of the memories are remarkably vivid. My debut season, playing for Jenny Oil, starting at catcher and crying when a ball rolled (ahem, softly) into my foot as I dashed from first to second. A couple of years later, being forced into action at third and making a key putout. Hitting my first (and only) career homer off of a kid named Rocco Niccoletti.

The best of the best came in 1984, when I was a 12-year-old outfielder for Bill Bloomer Painting. We had a fantastic season, and advanced to the MSA (Mahopac Sports Association) World Series. It was a tight game—scoreless after five, I believe—and the tension was thick. Mr. Bloomer ran me out to left field for the top of the sixth, and all I wanted was the ball to fly anywhere but toward me.

Well, with two outs and a couple of runners on, Rick Oubina came up and socked a long fly in my direction. As it approached, I awkwardly lifted my glove, blocked out the sun … and caught it. My mom still laughs about the other mothers hugging and kissing her. In my head, I was 350 feet away. In reality, I was probably, oh, 100. Maybe 90.

Obviously, the memory has faded. Before writing this, however, I retrieved the the ball from a nearby shelf. It sits by my side … says 1984 WORLD SERIES in blue pen, with “THE CATCH” for added emphasis. Some of the signatures remain clear—Brian Hitney and John DeFrancesco and Richie Bradbury and Eugene Signorini and P.J. Molinari. Others have rubbed away.

I can only hope, one day, my boy has a ball of his own.