Growing up, baseball was the game of Kings. I grew up when video games were nothing more than sprites. You had to imagine the three blocks on the Atari 2600 were actually Indiana Jones making his way into the Well of Souls to find the Ark of the Covenant. The little squares in maze after maze of Bezerk were robots fighting to save humanity. And because these games were not as immersive, you played for an hour and then sat the controller aside. There was no reason to play any longer. The games (easily developed and churned out every few months) proved nothing more than a senseless diversion. Today, mobile games have a similar charm (the interaction is different and quality better).
Outside would come calling. Summer breeze. The smell of leather. The sounds of the ball against the glove. The clang of the bat.
But it was more than that. It was about the friends you met on the field. Your next door neighbors–the friends you grow up with are not easily forgotten. I still remember the long nights of flashlight tag, climbing up the pine tree to the girl next door’s bedroom to meet the rest of the neighborhood gang, and playing hours of pickle and games of run down.
I remember game night. Wearing the hand me down hometown jersey before heading to the ball field still holds a place in my heart. I still had one of the jerseys, laden with holes, on my shelf until a few years ago. Like all childhood things, the jersey faded away, either lost to the trash or left to the donation box. Yes, I do wish I could travel back in time and wear the colors once more.
I remember my hometown rolled out a good ball team (some years better than others). I’d like to say it was a great ball team, but like most memories you only remember the good parts–the past always looks like a ESPN highlight reel or Facebook feed. I doubt we were really that good.
The last year I played summer ball the team down the road had a team that couldn’t be stopped. To me, Lewistown had the best team to ever play the game. And boy, did they have hometown pride. They were the juggernauts in the league putting up scores that looked like lopsided football victories. You almost always played every team twice in the league and the best we came was 9-1. I doubt the score was that close. Yet, the only thing I remember was getting my friend Hutt, as we called him, to look at strike three. Sure, the pitch came in shoulder high (a hometown call for sure), but I still gave him grief. That’s the only thing I remember from that game.
I doubt I could have started on the Lewistown team. But we were all friends on both sides of the field.
In writing Knights of Legend, I had someone ask me where an author gets the ideas they bring to life. Well, you write what you know. I can say that everyone in this book is fictional. Jason Sheridan comes from my head and nowhere else. He’s not based on me. He’s not based anyone I’ve met in real life. For reasons good and bad, he’s the lead in the story I see and the one I put to paper.
I truly loved playing summer baseball. Small town leagues had a bit of mystery to them back in the day. Certain teams had an aura to what they did the game prior–especially the boys of Lewistown. Putting away ole’ Hutt on a high strike still makes me smile. It’s funny how we remember some things and not others. I hope the love shows in this work.
This is the beauty of baseball, a team sport with an individual flair. In golf, you can go eighteen holes and only hit one good shot, but you come back for that one good shot. Baseball has the individuality but also the concept of team. It’s why we track free agents in the off season so much. What will this one player do to better the team dynamic? If the Cardinals don’t sign Albert Pujols, move Berkman to first base, and put Allan Craig in the outfield, do they lose more games? And what are those games worth? Considering the Cardinals got in on the last day of the season and went on to win the World Series, that one game could be considered priceless.
Putting aside talk of free agent economics, friendships and memories you build matter most. The game and its reach is far greater than the big leagues. Most likely, if you played baseball you still talk baseball. I talk to my dad each and every week without fail and most of the time baseball finds a way into the conversation. I still remember listening to Jack Buck call games. He did it the right way.
Many of the people I played with growing up I’ve lost track of. Like the jersey lost to time, we’ve grown up, gotten married, built careers, and moved on. We are all very different now. I’m not sure what most of my childhood friends do these days outside of a few posts on Facebook. And I may never find that jersey again. But I’ll never forget what playing baseball as a kid meant to me. It’s value can’t be measured. Memories priceless. That’s why baseball is the game of Kings. And just by stepping on that field you can be one, not only for a day but for a lifetime.