Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Uncle of Swat

Yesterday, Mom/Nana decided that it was time to tell the two-year-old twins, Ashley and Rachel, about baseball. Not to show them a tape of a game, or (God forbid at that age) to take them to a live game. Just to show them how it was played in the backyard.

We gave the girls little gloves. Ashley's was pink, Rachel's her favorite color, purple. (Oh boy. It's going to be quite some time before I tell her Uncle Mike doesn't like purple because of the East Brunswick-Old Bridge rivalry.) We gave them a little rubber bat with a small pink ball with a Yankee interlocking N-Y on it.

Nana and I tossed a ball back and forth, not a real ball but one with a cushioned cork center surrounded by a soft cover, a toy. After a while, then we showed them pitching and hitting. Mom/Nana batted first, using my old bat, with the plain wood handle and the black barrel with the Don Mattingly signature on the sweet spot.

(I got this bat while Mattingly was still, arguably, the best player in the game, long before I figured out there was a Curse of Donnie Baseball. We gave my first real wood bat, a Johnny Bench model, to the kid next door. He turned out to be a Met fan like his father, and he broke it the first time he used it. Served him right. Wonder if he knows who Johnny Bench was.)

I am not a pitcher. I tried to get the ball over the plate, but I was wild. Nana did manage to make contact, but it seemed like every time she did, I managed to make a great stop. Granted, we're talking about a woman in her early 60s, not a 25-year-old major leaguer or a 22-year-old minor leaguer, or even a 17-year-old high schooler. But I've never fielded better... and I'm knocking on the door of 40!

(Who knows, maybe those dimwits who still think Jose Reyes -- or even Rey Ordonez! -- was ever a better fielding shortstop than Derek Jeter can shut the hell up about him needing to move to another position, as he's fielding better at age 35.)

Then it was my turn to bat. Problem is, Nana didn't pitch any better. Most of her tosses, even the underhanded ones, ended up hitting me or nearly doing so. It wasn't especially hard, so it didn't exactly hurt. But the point was to show the girls what baseball looked like.

Finally, Nana got some balls over the plate, and I hit a few sharp grounders. Then she got me to swing and miss at a couple.

And then, well, I don't know what got into me. I said, "Girls, look!" And I pointed, like Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. Now, that game was played at Wrigley Field in Chicago, against the Cubs, and, at the time, Wrigley didn't have ivy -- that didn't come until 1937. But there is quite a bit of ivy around our house.

Of course, the girls didn't get the joke. Why would they, they're... how old, Rachel? "Two!" I don't think I knew who Babe Ruth was until I was about 6 or so.

There was a Peanuts cartoon where the gang is playing ball, and Lucy finds a glove, thinking it belonged to a kid named Willie Mays, because that's the name that was written in the glove. "I don't know any kids around here named Willie Mays, do you, Charlie Brown?" Ol' Chuck tells Lucy to look in her glove, because he's sure there's a name on it. And the fussbudget says, "Babe Ruth? We'll, I'll be. How do you suppose I got her glove?"

Poor Charlie Brown can't do anything but stand on the mound and roll his eyes, and I'll bet his stomach hurt. That poor kid, his stomach always hurt. How do you get an ulcer at age 8?

So the girls watched, and I pointed to a spot beyond the fence like Ruth supposedly did, and Nana threw one right in my wheelhouse. Yeah, right, like I have a wheelhouse. Well, I must've developed one, because I cranked this sucker. Literally over the fence. And into the ivy in the front yard.

How far? In retrospect, now that I've had over 24 hours to think about it, and am not presently in a position to impress two-year-old twin girls, who are easily impressed with what their crazy uncle does... probably less than the 325-foot "minimum" that MLB sets for foul-pole distances at new ballparks (and doesn't exactly enforce). Maybe significantly less. But...

Damn, that felt good. I even did the John Sterling call: "There it goes! That ball is high! It is far! It is gone! A home run!" I tried to think of a way to work the Babe Ruth theme into it, but I couldn't think of one, so I reworked the Posada call, "Jorgie juiced one" into "Mike mashed one!" Did the home run trot, and told the girls to come to the "plate" and jump up and down when I got there like real ballplayers.

For a few minutes, Ashley, Rachel and I were Yankees. For a few minutes, I was the Uncle of Swat.

I love baseball. And now the girls, who I also love, love it, too. A major item on my to-do list is crossed off.

Well, of course, I meant getting the girls to love baseball. What did you think I meant, hitting a home run? I've done that before.

In the 4th grade.

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