Thanks to my usual cast and crew of advance readers and editors, especially Dragonsweb, The Old Fart and WorldWanderer
And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green
And the people played their crazy game with a joy I'd never seen
And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer
Yes, there used a ballpark right here
And there used to be rock candy and a great big Fourth of July
With the fireworks exploding all across the summer sky
And the people watched in wonder, how they'd laugh and how they'd cheer
And there used to be a ballpark right here
Now the children try to find it
And they can't believe their eyes
'cause the old team just isn't playing
And the new team hardly tries
And the sky has got so cloudy
When it used to be so clear
And the summer went so quickly this year
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here
Frank Sinatra: The Reprise Collection, Disc 4
Arranger: Gordon Jenkins
Written by: Joe Raposo
I never should have allowed myself to turn forty!
I knew that it was a really bad idea at the time, but somehow I went ahead and did it anyway. That'll teach me! Then to make things worse, I just turned forty-five last month and hated it so much that I just spent the day in bed curled up in a ball whimpering.
The aches and pains just get worse, particularly the knees. They held up nicely until I turned thirty-seven and then they went to hell fast. I kept playing ball on them for another five years, mostly now at the far end of the bench and then finally for a two year stint in Japan playing in agony on wobbly pegs just toughing it out for just one final big paycheck. I'd never been a top star player and sometimes during my career I earned closer to the league minimum than a fat star free-agent salary. It earned me enough money to finish paying off my overly expensive house in San Francisco and stick everything else in some high grade municipal bonds that pay enough in annual dividends for me to live very comfortably until I get my pension. I'd never been wildly rich, but I'd been mostly pretty smart about my money and had made some decent investments for my non-playing days.
Unfortunately those last two seasons probably brought me ten years closer to my eventual knee replacement surgery. And maybe my right hip too. Perhaps also my right shoulder, if I can get a bulk rate discount. Having played in the Major Leagues for 17 years and sixty-four days, I'm fully vested in the health care system, but the surgery co-pays are still a bitch.
Enough bitching. Baseball has been very, very good to me since I was drafted in the sixth round at the age of seventeen right out of high school. I progressed quickly through the minors and got my first call-up to the majors two days after my twenty-first birthday, and the next spring won a spot on the big league club as the everyday starting second baseman, and kept the job, more or less, for the next fourteen years playing for five different teams. After few more years riding the bench as a utility infielder for three different teams it was pretty obvious that it was time to hang up my cleats for good — and I should have ... maybe, but I loved the game too much to quit.
I spent the following year in serious denial playing for an independent league AAA farm club hoping for a miracle call-up to the show, but it didn't happen. The next year I accepted the fact that my MLB playing days were over and agreed to a two year contract to play ball in Japan. It was ok. They liked my hustle and my skill flexibility to play every infield and most outfield positions, but by that point I had nearly nothing left in my gas tank. I didn't quite embarrass myself on the field, but the results were at best just pretty mediocre to average. Still, it was a good paycheck and it certainly beat selling insurance or used cars for a living.
This time I didn't need any hints to know when to quit and walk away ... for good.
I'd had a good run. Since the day I graduated from high school I'd never worked a single day of my life at a real job, and for part of my professional playing career I'd even been a minor star during my prime, good for at least ten home runs and twenty stolen bases each season. Pretty darned good at times, especially for a middle infielder like me, but I would never get an invitation to the Hall of Fame, until they open a wing just for the rest of us mere mortals. I did earn two Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances, and the awards look nice sitting on my fireplace mantle, but Cooperstown has never given me a call to put either my bat or glove into the museum, nor will they ever.
The bad side about having been a career professional athlete all of my adult life is that I had never gone to college and didn't have a lick of experience at doing anything else normal with my life. I didn't even have an off-season hobby that I could cultivate into a second career. Looking back on it, I should have done something useful with my six month long off-seasons. Something ... anything! Learned carpentry, collected antiques, gotten a real estate license ... anything to fill the time just a tad more productively.
I didn't. Now, retired for nearly two full years now, I was bored out of my rather empty skull and quietly going crazy looking at the ever constricting four walls of my house. Don't get me wrong, I love San Francisco and I probably played the five best years of my entire career here so sometimes older fans still remember me, but it was getting old playing resident tourist. Not to mention that some long ignored voices were calling to me, beckoning me to return back home to Chicago. My mother was getting too old to tend to my disabled father and she was almost begging for my help. I had no problems with sending her money — I had done so for over twenty years, the problem was that I had no intention of ever being in the same house with my father again. He'd had two heart attacks and a stroke, but the surly old bastard was just too mean to die.
My father was the only son of a Lithuanian immigrant who arrived in Chicago in 1938 and worked in the meat plants for forty years. My father did the same, in fact both men were carved from the same unyielding block of granite, and each treated their wives and children with the same brutality and insensitivity that they used while cutting carcasses. My father didn't like baseball and never once watched me play a game, either in my high school or major league career, but he loved the Chicago Bears football team with a passion. It was my mother who signed my professional baseball contract for me when I was seventeen so that I could leave home — hopefully forever. She knew then that she had lost me but the alternative was worse ... I was pretty good and ready, and quite able, to kill my own father the very next time he laid his brutish fists upon me.
I wasn't completely insensitive to my family. I called and wrote, occasionally, and I'd visit my mother every season when passing through Chicago, but I never once again set foot inside the family home. I would arrange to pickup my mother from the street corner or meet her elsewhere and then take her out for a little shopping and a nice dinner. I'd offered more times than I could count to buy her a home of her own if she would just leave my father — but she never would. She was catholic and divorce was unthinkable to her, then and still now. If not happy, she was at least content with her life and was prepared to live and deal with my father for another forty years, if necessary.
It was a miracle that I didn't inherit the family anger management problems. If anything, I'm too patient and count to at least twenty before I even think about blowing my stack. I can count the number of times that I've lost my temper since I became an adult on one hand, with fingers left over. Much too patient probably sometimes ... something my ex-wife took advantage of shamelessly. She was an expert at passive-aggressive manipulation and for four years she ruled the roost until I came home early from a road-trip three days early with a slight injury to find her our bed with her boyfriend. She'd been having an affair with him for nearly two years and had been supporting him with my money. She had been patiently waiting to divorce me after the end of this season when I would be a free-agent and would undoubtedly get a fat pay increase by moving to another team. It very nearly worked — I hadn't suspected a thing.
We lived in a no alimony state at the time, and after hiring a good PI to lock down all of the evidence, I escaped from the divorce without losing even a sock, let alone my shirt. I even received a default judgment for theft from her boytoy to recover the money she had lavished upon him. She loved him enough to marry him, and as far as I know they're still together. To stay out of jail, he sends me a check every month for $20, so I can't sue him for non-payment, but I know I'll never receive back anything close to the full owed amount. In some bad moods, I've considered selling my debt to the nastiest south side mob-owned collections agency I can find, for ten cents on the dollar just so I could enjoy the fun of watching the professional leg-breakers collect! Nah, I am over it ... and I guess everyone has a right to try and find a little happiness in this world.
.... There is more of this story ...