At Any Age, Baseball’s a Sweet Game of the Mind

The Different Outcomes and Consequences of Playing Baseball at Ages 16 and 76

old-timer-baseball At age 76 (I’ll be 77 on New Years Eve), every neuron impulse in my body tells me that I could still play center field. At the same time, every rational conclusion I reach in the logical sector of my brain tells me – loud and clear – “don’t even think about it!”

But I will think about it – until I put the whole possibility totally to bed – or die – whichever comes first. It’s worth the risk to me. I may be a fool sometimes when it comes to some matters of misplaced trust, but I’m no idiot when it comes to the perilous limitations that descend upon the physical body with age. I’m still fascinated by the mental images of what might happen if I actually tried to play at my age.

Here are a few of my never-to-be tested theoretical conclusions of what might happen to me in certain everyday game situations if I went to spring training with the Astros in 2015 as a center field candidate:

(1) Can-of-Corn Pop Flies. If I could get to them, I think I could still catch them. I might mistake their paths of descent by twenty to thirty feet the first four or five times I tried, but I’d find the range – if I didn’t run out of breath first.

(2) Wall Banger Line Drives. No problem. I’d never get there in time to make a Pete Reiser catch and be carried unconscious off the field.

(3) Shoe String Catches. These were my specialty back in my parochial school ball days. Although my cervical back issues today might allow a single attempt to place me in traction for a period of time that could range from three months to the rest of my life.

(4) Pick Off Plays on Me as a 1st Base Runner. Well, for starters, I can’t imagine how I would even get to first base these days, but logic tells me that some pitcher’s mean bitter-old-timer-baseballstreak or wildness could make the trip possible via an HBP award. Once at first, they will never pick me off. With my diminished motor skills for judging the speed of flying objects, I wouldn’t even take a lead. I’d revert to what they taught us in little league: “Stay on the base until the batter hits the ball. Then run.”

(5) Dealing with Pitchers Who Throw Hard and Inside. Why would I change the beautiful formula I always used? I’d step in the bucket as I was falling out of the box and simultaneously swinging the bat. A couple of coaches tried to tell me that my style was flawed – and that I had no future in baseball unless I corrected it, but I wasn’t worried. My main plan was to become a pitcher – and pitchers don’t have to be good hitters. After all, in real baseball, fans love watching pitchers come to bat who can’t hit worth a flip.

(6) Stealing Bases. I haven’t stolen a base since the 1956 summer CYO League season. I made it safely on a feet first slide into 2nd base with some help from my nose. My nose interrupted the catcher’s throw to the covering shortstop. In fact, my nose literally “bent over backwards” to help me – with the tip of my nose only stopping once it made contact with my right cheek. I saw stars and lost consciousness. The next thing I knew, I was  waking up in an ER treatment room at nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital with an ice pack on my face. I was lucky. My girl friend didn’t even leave me for looking worse than normal for about six weeks. “You look like Paul Newman in that movie in which he played Rocky Graziano,” she said. – “Remember, Bill? We saw it downtown. –  ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me.’ – Well, you didn’t actually look like Paul Newman with your broken nose. – You looked like a beat-up Rocky Graziano.” – If that statement wasn’t love, what is?

All things considered, I guess I’d better stay retired from actually playing baseball on the field, but I will continue to hope that baseball remains the play in my mind it is now for the rest of my life. If it does not, I fear that “the rest of my life” would be forever missing the sweet spot that baseball is today – and always has been. – It is the game of my soul.

Play Ball – all you fertile baseball minds!





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