With the hockey season having come to its joyful conclusion, it is time to turn our attentions to those other professional athletes laboring in sunshine on spacious green fields on the city's North and South sides.
These would be baseball players, and if you have not had time to check the standings, you might be shocked and will surely be disappointed that neither of our major league teams seems ready to deliver of post-season promises.
Still, baseball holds a special place for many of us and long has. When baseball was relatively new, the poet
observed, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game — the American game."
Osgood and I drove around for a long time looking for what was once a familiar city sight: a school wall with a "strike zone" painted or chalked onto it.
My school was LaSalle, long before it became a language academy, and our "strike zone" was chalked on to the north wall, which faced, still does, a playground bounded by Eugenie, Sedgwick and Orleans streets.
Standing there against the school's unmarked brick wall, as I always do when summer is about to start and school's about to end, it is impossible for me not to be touched by memories of throwing balls and swinging bats and pretending to be heroes.
Then those heroes had the names
, Minnie Minoso,
and others, depending on the season's hottest bats or arms. We went to games, when we could scrape together enough bottle-return dough for seats. At Wrigley in 1962, they went for $1.50 in the grandstand and 75 cents in the bleachers.
The most vivid memory comes from 1964 or 1965 or maybe both. We would be, a handful of us, playing ball and onto the playground would walk
great, holding the hand of one or more of his four daughters. We knew that he lived nearby and we knew, in the day, his statistics by heart: in 1964, 100 runs, 201 hits, 33 home runs, 98 RBI, a .312 batting average; in 1965, 115/203/34/108/.315.
More than once we were able to convince him, actually beg until he relented, to toss us a few pitches. Keeping a watchful eye on the playground kids to his left, he'd throw a few balls and every once in a while one of us would connect, and he would say, "Good one," and then he would go get his girls and walk home.
These encounters and his encouragement seeded in some of us, of course, dreams of a major league career, dreams kept alive with mitts tucked under pillows at night, dreams that eventually evaporated.
But baseball kept its grip as we grew older, though that hold would become less firm as the players became less and then not at all accessible and the game was tainted by manufactured muscle.
Osgood and I don't go to as many games as we did as kids, but I do still believe — as I once wrote in an introduction to a photography book about the 1977
— that many of us "go to a baseball game to remove ourselves from the struggles of our own lives." We also go in an attempt to catch that buzz no longer available, it appears, by the sight of a rectangular box etched on the wall of the neighborhood school.