A friend’s son recently started playing Little League and my friend was philosophically relaying the fact that his son was playing right field. There was disappointment in his voice. I said that I had heard over the years right field had actually become less the place to hide a poor player and more the place to put a kid with a strong arm, a la Roberto Clemente. I’m not sure where I had heard this. Perhaps from another parent who was not coming to grips as easily with the reality of Little League right field.
I remember first discussing baseball with my dad when I was nine years old and had started playing T-ball. In our suburb of Pittsburgh, T-ball was a one-year stop before Little League. My father, Vince, and his good friend Arch Irvin were the coaches of our team. The year before they went 18-0.
At the end of every game Mr. Irvin would gather us around to give a cheer to the opposing team. In retrospect it was a 1950s collegiate cheer, a hip hip hooray Panthers or Eagles or Lions or whomever we had just played. Mr. Irvin was the only wasp we knew, but what a wasp he was. Descended from chieftains of US Steel, I wonder now what brought him to our suburb of second generation Italians, Irish, Polish and Jews. My closest friends were Tommy Alioto, Rick Grabowski and Paul Donahue. There were no mixed families — no one parent who was Irish and another who was Polish. Everyone was 100 per cent fill-in-the-blank. But Mr. Irvin was a tremendous swizzle stick of a wasp. He loved every sport from bowling to golf, although he was not particularly athletic himself. His boys, like their father, played everything.
My brother, Jim is a year older than I am and was a great baseball player. He was on that T-ball team the year before that went 18-0. I was not nearly as good as Jim. I played second base, which is sort of middling. Pitchers, shortstops and third basemen are the best, as those with Little League experience will recall. But I was an industrious little second baseman who always ran to the right spots for cut offs and backed up throws. I was such an obedient kid.
In our T-ball league the uniform was just a T-shirt with the team logo and colors. We were the Owls and had blue and white shirts. Each street had a team. Sharon Drive was the Owls, Braddock Road was the Lions, Pacific avenue was the Seals — clever now that I think about it.
Every time we played a game I wore my favorite jeans, the ones that had a patch sewn on the bellbottomed lower part that said ‘The Devil Made Me Do It.’ I had another patch that read ‘NOW.’ It had such cool colors and letters that I had my mom sew it on my windbreaker. I’m not sure when I learned NOW stood for National Organization for Women, but it was a long time after 1973. For each game I also wore my favorite sneakers which had the logos of all 26 NFL teams (as I think there were at the time) around the edge.
I remember back in 1973 after my first T-ball practice, my dad and I were discussing in the car ride home what positions I might play. My dad has always been a world class lower-your-expectations kind of guy. He has also always been a world class good guy and I understood this even as a nine-year-old. No matter what the score of the game, he always pulled my brother, the star of the team and his first-born, to insert Neil Freiberg, who was mentally handicapped.
In the car that day I turned to my dad and said ‘well, there’s center field, right field…’
“What about left out?” my Dad asked. “What if you play left out?”
He was obviously making some sort of joke. But the truth is, I still don’t get it.
Dave Crisanti is a regular visitor to Martha’s Vineyard. He lives in New York city.