By Richard Edwards
About this time every year thousands upon thousands of young boys pick up a baseball bat and a leather glove for the first time and a love affair begins. There is something quite special about this game. It draws to it an affection that can't be explained, an affection that stays with you forever. The dream of every baseball player is to get good enough to play at "another level". Whether its high school baseball, college baseball, or professionally, the drive of every player is to perform well enough to play it for a long time. Little boys dream about playing in the "bigs". Farfetched? Maybe, but nothing wrong with chasing dreams.
My love affair with baseball began a long way from South Carolina, in Duluth, Minnesota. My father's service to this country in the Air Force took our family there. Duluth is on the tip of Lake Superior and about 125 miles from the Canadian border, so you can imagine how the winters are. But, the summers are quite warm and offer a good climate for baseball. I may be giving my age away when I say that organized baseball didn't begin until you were 8 years of age. No tee ball. No coaches pitch. And, no travel ball. We would have loved to have had those opportunities. Pickup games at the park were basically one of our few means of recreation. Meet at the park, choose sides and play baseball. We never had enough for full teams so hitting the ball to right field resulted in an automatic out. And we did that day in and day out. Ride your bike to the park and quit when you got hungry. Anyway, I remember coming home after tryouts when I was 8 years old and being asked by my mother, "Well, what position are you playing?" When I told her catcher, she looked at me like I had grown a third eyeball. And, so the love affair and a chase of a dream began.
Baseball on television back then was nothing like it is today. No MLB Network. No MLB.com. No ESPN Baseball Tonight. But, we still found ways to become informed. I remember Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese teaming up for a weekend game telecast of Major League Baseball. If you missed that telecast, it was a long wait until the next weekend. Duluth had a minor league baseball team, the Duluth-Superior Dukes, an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. My memories of going to the park are dim now but those were good times. I guess that is why my dad was a Tiger fan. Living in Minnesota at a young age, I developed a love for the Minnesota Twins. Names like Bob Allison, Camilo Pascual, Zoilo Versalles, Tony Oliva, and Harmon Killebrew (pictured right) were my heroes. I remember running home from school on a fall day in 1965 listening to a transistor radio of a broadcast as my beloved Twins played the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Some guy named Koufax was having his day with the good guys and it broke this little boy's heart. But the love affair grew and the dream continued.
I really don't like going to the grocery store these days. Love to eat but don't like to go there. But, when I was young I went with my mother. And when I went through the doors, it was off to the cereal aisle. You're probably wondering what this has to do with baseball, aren't you? Well, the backs of Post cereal boxes contained several baseball cards. So, while my mom shopped, I went through the Post boxes on the shelves looking for cards of players that I didn't have. Then I ended up trying to convince my mother that I really liked those brand of cereals. Card collecting has stuck with me to this day. The Sporting News came into my life not too long after and that brought more baseball into my world. I would literally spend hours going through MLB box scores. Does anyone do that anymore? It helped me memorize the starting lineups of just about every major league team. And the love affair grew and the dream continued.
My playing days were what brought the most satisfaction. From Minnesota to Virginia to South Carolina, places I have lived, or anywhere else in our country, baseball is still baseball and it takes us away from the troubles of this life. As James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams, "It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again." To put on the gear, to smell the leather of the glove and the pine tar on the bat, to hear the crack of that wood bat (no metal back then), to laugh and cry with the guys you went to battle with, it just didn't get any better than that. All-Star games, high school baseball, American Legion baseball, it was all part of chasing the dream and falling more and more in love with the game.
In my playing days, I was a good defensive catcher who could throw with anyone. Hitting, or the lack thereof, was the weakest part of my game. Nevertheless, I was the MVP of my high school team my senior year and MVP and Best Offensive player of my American Legion team. I was quite proud of those accomplishments on the field. Still have those awards in my den to this day. My father's assignments in the military eventually brought me to South Carolina. A few in-state small colleges came to call during my senior year but I ended up walking on at a major university and playing for a couple of years. It was then that I awoke from my dream. It was a sad time. Sort of like when your girlfriend breaks up with you. You still have feelings for her but know it just isn't ever going to be...ever again. I loved the game of baseball so much but reality had set in. I wasn't ever going to be playing in a Major League park. I wasn't going to be part of a baseball team and share the camaraderie of being around teammates any more. I have been truly blessed by the love of this game. It's that same love that brings tears to the eyes of MLB players at their retirement press conferences. No different. My dream just didn't last as long as theirs. Mine ended too early for my liking but the love affair continued.
From there, it was on to chasing the dreams of my two boys. God blessed me with two sons who had the same love of baseball that I did. For those that don't know what it's like, there is nothing like playing catch in the backyard with your son. I will always treasure those moments. I can't squat behind the dish anymore. Chasing the dream had taken its toll on these knees and ankles. I can't throw much more than a lob anymore either. Chasing the dream took its toll on that part of my body too. I can only tell my boys how well I could zing it, back in the day. My youngest son will play his last high school baseball game sometime this spring. That will be a tough time too, at least for old dad. He has been given the opportunity to play small college baseball so his dream, and mine in a way, will continue.
A day doesn't go by that I don't think about the game of baseball. It's not just seeing it every time you turn on the tube or surf the net, it's embedded in my makeup. My allegiance has switched from the Twins to the Braves. Killebrew and Oliva have been replaced by Chipper and McCann. Good times, good memories, something special in my life. Now, as a scout and writer for Junior Diamond Prospects, I get to watch young boys and young men chase their dreams. So, my advice to parents is this. Don't disturb your children while they are sleeping or while they are playing baseball. They are just chasing a dream and there's nothing wrong with that. And you never know where they might find themselves when they wake up.