Sunday, April 20, 2014

Brothers, Baseball, and Beer: My Baseball Career Part 1

When I first started rereading a story that I wrote in high school about a fictional baseball hero named Dante Cimadamore, I found pages upon pages of what I envisioned my baseball career would have looked like had my father forced me to play Little League.

The novel runs a couple hundred handwritten pages, and features homerun heroics, perfect games, and a romance birthed in a backyard baseball field (that would eventually become the foundation of my novel).

A quarter of the way through it though, I make my main character live through my own short-lived baseball career. My older brother was my first Scott League coach and endured a lot of my strikeouts and general offensive ineptitude. By my third and final year, I managed to become a serviceable outfielder and even hit more than .300.

I’ve always tried to be an honest writer, but even I’m surprised on how honestly I dealt with my brief, recreational baseball career (although I do allude to the main character’s future greatness). The next few posts on this blog will include the full story of Dante Cimadamore’s summer league trials and Daniel Ford’s Major League Baseball aspirations.

After you read this, go outside and have a catch, or play some pepper!

Part 1: Tryouts

I believe this was taken right before my first Pony League game.
“It’s a good thing the tryout only lasted a few hours. Had it been longer, Dante would have needed a year’s worth of physical therapy to recover from it.”—Scott League director Jeff Jay

Upon returning to their hometown, Dante, Tim, and Patrick were instant celebrities (editor’s note: This takes place after Dante’s Little League wins the Little League World Series).

Parades were held, articles were written, and city awards were given out. Patrick Russell was bestowed the greatest gift of all. His Little League number was retired and he was given the key to the city. The rest of the team wasn’t so lucky.

“We got a commemorative hat and certificate, both of which I lost in the first week I had it.”—Tim George The winter months passed by, allowing the craze over the young athletes to dissipate to the point where they could live normal lives again. However, when warmer weather finally arrived, so did the fan’s hunger for the game.

“Thanks to those boys, this town became baseball crazy.”—Parent

The coming of spring also brought new challenges to the boys of summer who had reigned supreme the year before. A new league beckoned and called for all those who thought they were worthy to move on from their Little League roots. Only a handful of Destiny’s Team—the nickname immortalized on their commemorative hats—answered the call. The rest sought other interests.

“I would have felt like I was under pressure all the time, and that’s no way to play the game.”—John Machado

“I found out I was a much actor than a second baseman.”—Malcolm Miller

A hundred and forty baseball players registered that year for the town’s recreational Scott League. Half that number would be put through the stress of a tryout. Dante Cimadamore stepped onto a full-size baseball diamond for the first time, armed with his talent and trusty glove.

“Just me and Rosebud. If I had known what was going to happen, I would have brought body armor.”—Dante Cimadamore

That day, Dante had been inspired (by what, only God knows) to try to broaden his horizons. He opted to leave the confines of the outfield to tryout as an infielder. He got in line behind the other first basemen and waited for the tryout to start. Dante wanted to show people he was versatile and could do more than hit and chase after lazy fly balls.

“I saw Dante trot out to first base and the first thought that went through my mind was ‘He’s going to kill himself.’”—Tim Nix

From his Little League experience, Dante thought he knew how and where to hit the cutoffs. However, he moved left when he was supposed to move right, and dropped every throw that came in from the outfield. Standing outside the foul line, Dante pictured the coaches crossing his name off their list, which made him more determined. Sadly, his determination would not overcome his lack of talent playing first base.

As the infield/outfield session moved into the infield, the real horror began. Surprisingly, Dante handled throws from the third basemen and short stops easily, but bobbled several of the second basemen’s throws to first. As his waited for his turn to complete a few double plays, Dante glanced longingly toward the outfielders. He saw the catching fly balls and fielding easy line drives—things he was capable of doing without thinking about it. He brushed the thoughts away and stepped back onto the dusty infield.

The third baseman started the double play off perfectly by getting off a crisp throw to the shortstop standing at second base. The fielder took a moment to collect the ball and pivot. Dante saw the throw head for the dirt and knew he was in trouble. The ball skipped in the dirt and struck Dante’s knee.

“I saw him miss the ball and then saw him jumping around in pain. I wanted to go over and make sure he was okay, but I didn’t do anything wrong, so I just let him be.”—Shortstop

The pain soon subsided to a sharp tingle. Dante eagerly stepped back onto the field, determined to show the coaches he could make the scoop on a bad throw. Once again, the same shortstop fired a low throw Dante’s way. Dante kept his eye on it the whole way. However, Dante stabbed at the ball instead of letting it come to him. The ball glanced off his glove and headed like a missile for his big toe on his right foot.

“Hands down, the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”—Dante Cimadamore

The blow to his foot knocked Dante to the ground. Slowly, he raised himself into a kneeling position and crawled into foul territory. He faced the fact that his days as a first baseman were numbered.

Of course, the coaches wanted to end the tryout with base running. Dante tried to mentally push the pain away, but it was too much for him. After gimping around first base, he fell on the way to second. He pulled himself up and forced his legs to walk briskly to the second base bag.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time he hadn’t blown away the competition. He fell down! I’m pretty sure that was the last time anyone saw Dante not do something spectacular on a baseball field.”—Patrick Russell Dante didn’t even acknowledge the chuckling players standing on the edge of the outfield grass. He fell into the green grass of left field thoroughly exhausted. Jeff Jay, the league’s director, said a few words on how this was the best tryout they had had in year.

“Best tryouts, my ass.”—Dante Cimadamore

The draft was the following day. Dante wasn’t looking forward to it. Although every player made a team, he was sure he was going to end up with a coach who would make him ride the bench all year. For the first time in his life, Dante limped off the field not proud of what he’d done on it.

***

An evening later, Dante was interrupted from his catnap by a ringing phone. He had been icing his swollen knee and his even more swollen big toe. He knew what kind of news was on the other end of the line, so he took his time answering the phone.

“Hello?”

“Is this Dante Cimadamore?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Ty Russell, a coach from the Scott League. Got a little beat up the other day, huh?”

“Yeah…” Dante said. “Russell. You wouldn’t be…”

“Patrick Russell’s brother. Yes. I taught hum everything he knows,” Ty said.

“Well, last year’s Little League squad thanks you for that.”

“I bet. Okay, I drafted you. You’re on the Phantoms. I saw a lot of heart in that tryout despite what happened. You kept getting back up. You played the outfield last year right?”

“Yup,” Dante said. “I tried something new and it backfired on me.”

“Well, I’ll put you in right field and we’ll forget you ever tried to play the infield. How’s that sound?” “How can I say no?” Dante said. He felt relieved.

The pain stopped instantly. His flame for the game burned brighter than ever. Dante Cimadamore was a Phantom and he vowed that the Scott League would never be the same.

“I knew what I was getting myself into. If I was going to have emotion from my team, I need that kid. He ended up giving us a lot more than that.”—Ty Russell

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