Late July 1978
I wake up and like any other summer morning, brush my teeth and my hair. Still a mess, so I put my Yankees hat on instead. Sometimes I’ll choose my plastic helmet. I have a few of them, each with a number on the back cut from electrical tape.
The night before, I carefully drew the interlocking NY on the front of a white T-shirt with permanent magic marker. The number on the back was easy because I have a steady hand and making block numbers and letters always came naturally to me.
The pinstripes are a tedious and time-consuming exercise. For that I use a yardstick. I have a thick piece of cardboard that I fit inside of the shirt. It makes it easier to draw and keeps the markers from bleeding through to the other side. No name on the back, of course.
I have a few of them now — a #15, a #44, and a #6. They look almost as good as the jerseys hanging in the window of the sports shop.
I bring my bike up from the basement and make sure the tires aren't too soft. I hate when the frame is dusty so I squirt it with Windex and wipe it down.
The shifters are at the top near the handlebars, one on either side of the stem. That’s where I hook my baseball glove. Always on the left side because weekday morning rides are flat and I only need to shift the right side.
Sometimes I use a backpack if I need to bring a bathing suit and towel. They always have basketballs and volleyballs so there’s no point in taking a chance that mine will get stolen. Sometimes I bring a football though.
By now there’s no need to call my friends before leaving. It’s the end of July. They know where to meet and what to bring. Some of them will walk but most others also ride their bikes.
It’s not even 9 o’clock and people are at the gate waiting for it to open. The park counselors always arrive on time.
Once inside, we talk about stuff like the game last night or the volleyball game at 10. Some of us go inside the old wood building and play ping-pong. It’s like no other ping-pong table you’ve ever seen. The top is about 4 or 5 inches thick and the edges are worn to the point that if you are an outsider, you don’t have a chance at winning.
Others are out on the cement porch where the picnic table is. There are lots of arts and crafts to do, and they usually charge only 25 cents. Braided key chains and sand art are the most popular.
Later on there’s a softball game at Page Park. A bus will pick us up at Stocks and take us there after lunch at Callen School. It’s not the greatest food, but it’s free.
It’s one of those mornings where it’s not easy getting 10 players for our team. I have to sit in the office for at least an hour dialing and redialing in the hopes of catching someone at home. I hate when we have to forfeit because these games are my favorite part of the summer.
Late July 2012
I drove my car over here this morning — to Stocks Playground. The parking lot is paved. The old building is gone. There are no park counselors for the kids to hang out with.
There are only little ones and their parents. There are no teens. The park has been given a facelift. I walk up the tiny hill to Casey Field. There is no room to fly a kite.
Part of the field belongs to the local youth football league and the remaining area is a fenced-in softball field. There’s an ESPN softball league game in progress. Someone knows me and says hello.
The place is beautiful. There just isn't any open space for neighborhood kids representing one park to play against kids representing another park.
My friends and I wouldn’t have been able to play a game of tackle football or throw the Frisbee around waiting for the bus from Rockwell Park to unload the kids from the other side of town.
But I’m not sure that it really matters now. I don’t think too many kids ride their bikes and meet friends for a ballgame at a central location any longer. If they do, I’d love to watch. If only to relive the scene of two captains using the bat to determine who gets to choose the first kid on his team.
If only to see the second basemen tell his own teammate that the kid at first was safe or to see a bunch of bikes leaning up against trees. If only to watch a kid trade a Pujols for a Jeter card and not place it directly into a plastic case.
If only I could walk through the gate at Stocks Playground and play one more game of ping-pong before pedaling back to Surrey Drive in time for supper.
If only summertime would recognize the kid in the homemade Yankees shirt.