The author, Charles Ghigna, was kind enough to send this piece my way a while back. It’s one of those ‘what if’ types of pieces that we can all relate to on some level. I’m impressed that he managed to garner an invitation to spring training to try out; it’s a shame it didn’t work out for him.
Like many kids of the 1950s, I loved baseball.
I played on teams throughout my youth and in 1964
I received an invitation to spring training camp
for a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I’m still waiting to hear from them.
In the meantime, I’ve been writing a few poems…
I may have lost a step or two,
(Or four, or six, or eight).
My bat speed may have slowed a bit,
(Much like a rusty gate).
My fastball may have lost some pop,
My slider may be have slid,
But when I dream of baseball,
I become a kid.
A glint of steel in my young stare,
Swagger in my stride,
I saunter to the plate
With confidence and pride.
A fastball down the middle,
I swing with all my might,
Old Rawlings soars past the crowd
And deep into the night.
There I am in summer’s glow
Warmed by hometown cheers,
Rounding third and striding home,
Back to my boyhood years.
Suddenly I’m sixty-six
Asleep in winter’s sun,
Dreaming of what might have been
When I was twenty-one.
Still I wait to take the call,
To hear them say my name,
An old man dreaming of the day
He played a young man’s game.
Baseball, to me, is still the national pastime because it is a summer game. I feel that almost all Americans are summer people, that summer is what they think of when they think of their childhood. I think it stirs up an incredible emotion within people.
When it comes to purchasing concessions at a ballpark, this seems about accurate.
On July 20, 1944, Nels Potter of the St. Louis Browns was handed a ten-game suspension, making him the first pitcher ever to be suspended for throwing a spitball. In a speech before the Society for American Baseball Research several years later, Potter stated, “The truth is I have never thrown a spitball in my life. It was a cool, dry night and we were playing the Yankees. I was using the rosin bag, Cal Hubbard said I couldn’t go to my mouth with my hands that night. I then blew on my hand. Cal said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I threw the ball in and said there was no rule that says you can’t do that. He kicked me out of the game and I got suspended for 10 days.” Potter returned to the Browns’ lineup on August 6 to win the second game of a doubleheader against the Indians, 6-4.
It’s hard to win a pennant, but it’s harder losing one.
Browsing the young adult section of the library last week, I came across Super-Sized Slugger, by Cal Ripken, Jr. (with Kevin Cowherd). I had a vague awareness that Ripken had broken onto the young adult author scene, though I never made a point to explore his novels. Even though Ripken is, hands down, my favorite player of all time, a lot of my hesitation in checking out his novels has been due to the byline-plus-“With [actual writer]” line. I imagine that even novels like these are written a la Players’ Tribune articles, in which the athlete gives an interview and has final approval, but does not actually do the writing. That’s not to say that no athlete ever does any of his or her own writing ever, but it’s difficult to tell in these cases.
Coming face-to-face with a copy of this particular novel, however, I felt compelled to check it out and give it a read. Super-Sized Slugger is actually the second book in the Cal Ripken, Jr.’s All Stars series, though it appears that each book is written to stand on its own. To date, the series comprises of six books, the most recent of which was published this past March.
In Super-Sized Slugger, Cody Parker’s family has just moved from Milwaukee to Baltimore, where he tries out to play third base for the Orioles in the Babe Ruth League. Even though he knows he plays a mean third base, he worries that his weight will prompt the coach to stick him in right field, and “[e]veryone knew … right field was for fat guys. And slow guys. And guys with thick glasses and big ears and bad haircuts” (3). To compound his worries, the kid who started at third base the year before, Dante Rizzo, also happens to be the school bully, who warns Cody that he needs to find another position.
Nevertheless, Cody beats out Dante for the starting third base job, which incites Dante to terrorize Cody every opportunity he gets. Meanwhile, a string of thefts sweeps through the school, and Cody’s life becomes more complicated when he finds himself the prime suspect in the crime wave.
The summary on the inside of the book jacket concludes with the query, “Will Cody ever succeed in getting people to see him for who he really is?” Really, there aren’t a lot of surprises to be found in this novel. For me to state that yes, Cody successfully resolves his issues with Dante, and that yes, the true culprit behind the thefts is uncovered in the end — it’s really not much of a spoiler. The novel was written with an audience of eight-to-twelve-year-olds in mind, and the plot works very well for that age group.
That’s not to knock on the book, by any means. Even if the plot proves predictable, I love the fact that this book, with a protagonist of such strong character, is out there for kids to read. It’s also a well-written baseball book. The influence of a former Major Leaguer’s input on the book shines throughout, and Ripken’s specific influence comes through in details about Baltimore and in the fact that Cody plays third base. His knowledge of the position and the game as a whole makes it truly enjoyable to a fan of the game. If all you’re looking for is a little bit of baseball mind candy, this book serves that purpose perfectly.