Published May 24, 2001 – Cameron Citizen-Observer
I grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey; a suburban township of 40,000 people, about 10 minutes outside New York City. There was a dead end street right near my house that was our playground. Labor Day was the first day of street football for us. We would play everyday, regardless of cars, numbers or weather. But when the ground cleared up, it was baseball season.
We would practice with someone hitting grounders and pop-ups. We would play games with no pitcher, just a bouncing tennis ball. We would play Stoopball, turning somebody’s front steps into a playing field. But the best of all worlds was Stickball.
I lived two blocks away from the high school. In the parking lot, there was a wall. About 200 feet away, there was a 25-foot chain-link fence. A box spray painted on the wall was the strike zone. The pitching mound was 60 feet, 6 inches away and I learned you could do some wicked things with a tennis ball. This is where I was most at home.
I remember one day we went up to the high school to “play two”. After the fifth inning of game one, we all looked up and realized the sky was ready to open up. We got to the seventh before we ran home soaked from head to toe. When the summer shower was over, we changed clothes and finished the game.
I played Little League and Babe Ruth and high school baseball, but never with the same energy and happiness that I played Stickball. By my junior year of high school, my friends had moved to basketball. I concentrated on making the varsity and getting into a good school.
Every college sport in Boston has a Beanpot Tournament and Fenway Park hosts the baseball version. I planned to walk on the Boston University team and hopefully, by my senior year, be good enough to swing at “the Green Monster”. But 1994-1995 was the last season for baseball at my alma mater. Due to Title 9, the baseball program was dropped and women’s soccer became a varsity sport.
I can’t remember my last organized baseball game because I never thought it would be my last. When I got to college, I played basketball because you could always find a game. It’s a little harder to find 17 people, bats, gloves and a field.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the game. Miss taking grounders off my chest and diving aimlessly after base hits. Miss taking an inside pitch the other way for a double in the gap. I miss running the bases and soft toss and cleaning my cleats with my bat.
So I have this piece of advice to the youth of the world. Play the games you love while you still can because they get harder to find, as you get older.
THIS JUST IN: Television is playing a tug-of-war with true sports fan right now. On one side you got the season finales of your favorite shows. On the other side, if you don’t watch a playoff game, you might miss a historic performance. Tomorrow night might be the night the NBA single game scoring record might break. If you watch the ‘ER’ finale, you might miss an overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Even baseball, early in its long season, is providing drama on a near-nightly basis. From A.J. Burnett’s no-hitter to Joe Randa’s walk-off grand slam to Sammy Sosa’s 400th career home run; America’s pastime looks better than the season finale of “The Sopranos” to me. Besides, HBO will play it again eight times in the next week and that’s the truth.