New Britain baseball anecdote: The confession of a baseball nut

Published on Wednesday, 10 March 2021 14:14
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When I was a youngster and not outside playing ball with my friends, I used to spend time sitting at my desk at home practicing my signature, full of secret expectations that I might, as a future star, be called upon to autograph balls and gloves and other items. I’m a grandfather now of a toddler, so you can imagine what I’m looking forward to.

A few years ago at the New Britain Stadium there was a Rock Cats Double-A minor league game underway. I was there attending a community event sponsored by a nonprofit for its volunteers, held outside on the concrete deck at the top of the grandstand down the first base line. Free hot dogs, beer, taco chips and so on. Maybe three dozen folks were milling around schmoozing or else sitting and eating at the wrought iron picnic tables. The deck provided a good close view of the game, as only a minor league stadium can. Bugs were swarming in the summer heat way above us in the stadium lights at the top of the steel stanchion as twilight settled in. 

By the middle of the game most of the people at the event had eaten and left or else were sitting in seats a few rows below me while I stood at the railing watching the action, my mind wandering I'm sure. Maybe I was imagining what it would be like to be young again and talented enough to play pro ball. Another confession: fans like me never retire that fantasy.

The anonymous batter hit a high, high foul pop. I started to track its parabola and saw it drift directly above where I was standing. The ball started dropping towards my outstretched hands. I thought about keeping my hands "soft," like any good fielder knows to do, to corral it like a tossed egg. The memory of childhood playing catcher-fliers-up with my friends a thousand times filled me with enthusiasm and confidence. The stadium lights were making that white sphere gleam, and as I got ready to make the play, I realized the ball wasn't just dropping at 32 feet per second, it was also spinning, at an incalculable rate. I could hear that ball buzz as it cut through the thick summer air. But now it wasn't just a baseball anymore. It was going to break bones in my hands, or perhaps even my face. It was a drone missile that was going to take me out. 

With a mature sensibility I backed away two steps and watched the ball hit the concrete, shoot back up into the air and - because of that fantastic spin - off to the left. Perfect. No one else around. I turned and like an outfielder chasing down an extra base hit in the gap, I kept my "eye on the ball," as my dad told me to do a thousand times. Then, with as much force as possible, I slammed my shin into the iron bench that I hadn't looked down to see. The ball ricocheted around under the picnic table before coming to a dead stop.  With stars in my eyes, now full of tears as well, I bent down to pick up the ball. 

For another couple of innings I could barely stand at the railing. I was afraid to sit down and perhaps not be able to get up and walk. I left during the 7th inning stretch. I had the ball and the egg on my shin, to take home. 

Quick epilogue: Driving home I consciously felt that I had finally grown up and would no longer put myself in harm's way on the count of my enthusiasms. And as this new season approaches, perhaps I should find that baseball and sign it and give it to my grandson.   

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Wednesday, 10 March 2021 14:14. Updated: Wednesday, 10 March 2021 14:16.