Take me out to the sandlot

As the days warm up and spring blossoms bloom, I recall the days of youth and my favorite sport, baseball. I can remember signing up for the local team, which was sponsored by the Police Athletic League in my hometown. I would hop on my Fleetwood bicycle and head for Rose Park, which no longer exists, consumed through time by the Comcast Headquarters Building in the west end of Willingboro, N.J. But I can still recall joyously peddling up Rancocas Road toward Rose Park, passing over the old iron bridge that crossed Mill Creek.

My boyhood friend, Steve would be riding alongside. I have known Steve since fourth grade and he now lives in Paris and we still keep in touch. We would race each other to the backstop, drop our bikes and head for the infield. Rose Park had three fields at the time, and that is where we would spend most of our summer days, playing sandlot ball or practicing with our team. Sometimes the cover of the ball would unwind, so we used electrical tape to bandage it up and get in a few more innings before dark.

There was always a strict ritual in playing baseball. Each one of us had our favorite player’s stance, good luck charms and cat calls. I can still smell the sweet dust in my nostrils as I slid into second on an error. The time flew by, exhausted and dirty, I would hop on that trusted bike with its white sidewall balloon tires and pedal home for supper. After chores, I would head up to my room to mark off the wins and losses of my favorite team on the wall calendar. After homework, I turned on my transistor radio and plugged in the one earphone and listened to the Phillies game.

It was June 21, 1964, on Father’s Day that I got my first Babe Ruth start at Pennypacker Field. I remember it was a hot muggy morning. My buddy Steve came over, and we practiced in my back yard beforehand. In retrospect, it wasn’t the  smartest thing to do, as I really threw too long.

We headed over to the field for the 1 o’clock game. I was a bit nervous, but felt pretty good. We were the home team and the first inning went well as I struck out two batters and made the final out of the inning, snatching  a comebacker! I labored through the second and third innings, giving up a couple walks but holding the opposition to no runs.

But, disaster came in the fourth when three straight players singled, followed by a base clearing double. I left the game trailing 3-zip. 

Of course, you throw your glove into the dugout and mope around a while, but soon the morose mood lifts as the game moves on. We went on that afternoon to tie through 10 innings before the game was postponed to a later date. We eventually lost the game to that top team, in fact, we didn’t win a game that year!  

The funny thing about that day was, when I returned home, I turned the knob on the old black and white TV just in time to see Jim Bunning pitch the final out of a perfect game against the New York Mets. It wasn’t such a bad day after all. Time moves us along and the storehouse of memory can be such a good friend. I was proud to be a “Rambler” with my maroon cap and sticky wool uniform. And yet, annoyingly and lovingly, I can still hear my Mom ranting, “Son, when are you going to get out of that filthy suit and wash up for dinner?”

Burt Baldwin

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