What is it that grabs hold of a man, like me, in his late 50s, that hearkens back to a time of the tumultuous 1960s and warms him to those days again? Is it the melancholic longing for a more youthful experience and the reluctance to accept an aging body and all its physical limitations? Is it the dissatisfaction with his present social status as true and solid friendships can be counted on one hand with a few fingers to spare? Or, is it the nature of the game of baseball, while lending itself to these subjective needs, is built on the nostalgic bent of American society?
The Stirring of Baseball Passion
For many men, then boys, 50 years ago, prior to the prevalence of soccer in youth team sports in America, baseball was the first option for personal participation. Baseball games were on television every Saturday, stirring the spirits of young boys with the “Game of the Week,” broadcaster Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean, and players like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Sandy Koufax, men who became household names, just like Western TV characters, Roy Rogers and Marshal Dillon. To watch these players was to watch one’s dreams for the future playing out in black-and-white before their eyes.
To translate these dreams to a sandlot, or perhaps even a lighted baseball diamond and bright-colored uniforms was not a big step, if one were lucky enough to live in a community that could support a league. A boy did not have to possess skills to be on a team; skills could be taught and learned. He did not have to have much money, just enough to sign up and pay a small fee of a few dollars that could be waived, if necessary. Bats, baseballs, and gloves could all be shared, and were. All a boy had to do was to like the game and want to play it, and the dream could come true.
A Social Opportunity
Were it not for baseball, an urban nine-year-old boy in the early 1960s would have had to search much harder for something to do in the summertime, some way to compete against others, and ways to meet other boys who lived across town and become friends for a lifetime.
In the dugouts, where there was a lot of time to sit, spit, and wait for his turn at bat, boys could talk about things outside the earshot of their own parents, like girls, how to catch fish, and yes, even the changes brought on by advancing puberty.
For many boys, it was not the game, or the competition, that formed the relationships of childhood, it was these “dugout talks” where plans were made to spend the night at a friend’s house, or to meet at the movies to watch the latest John Wayne show. Or, if he could sneak in, the new screen hero, James Bond.
Memories That Matter
What seems like one-dimensional nostalgia to some people, baseball memories are really an exercise of the spirit, not only the mind. It is to acquaint oneself again with one’s primary motivation – to identify one’s desire to excel in some endeavor and to live forward toward its actualization, and most of all, to enjoy the journey with friends.
Baseball, even without the game on the field, was where life itself happened, and that is why baseball memories matter to a man like me.
Photo Credits: Writer’s personal collection/1967 Carrollton Chronicle (Texas); Mantle and Dean: Wikimedia Commons