Lost Ballfield Memories…

Is there anything sadder in today’s Covid-warped world than the sight of an empty Little League baseball field?

I know we face a myriad of problems, but problems have always been with us. From the beginning of these United States, turmoil, hardships, and troubles have been a familiar constancy—along with death and taxes.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Ever since Abner Doubleday invented the game—although, like many legends of the past, this may be in doubt—baseball brought joy to the hearts of many a young boy.  The game is a business in the major leagues, America’s favorite pastime corrupted by greed. But when I was growing up, it brought much joy and happiness to me and my friends in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

These were different times in the 1960s. We often cloud the reality of the past with the analgesic of nostalgia. Still, I think memories of baseball played on a Little League field are as close as one can come to remember the “good ole’ days” as they really were.

These are the faces of life-long memories

Girls weren’t on teams back then. There were no leagues for girls. Truth be told, it was more selfish protection of less-skilled male athletes from being outplayed by girls than anything else, but they were different times. One cannot change the way of the past. We were just little boys with no need or ability to understand such complex matters. We just wanted to be boys playing baseball.

Little League games gave ten-year-old boys the glorious moments of dreaming they would one day play at Fenway or Yankee Stadium (for the really, really outstanding players.) These lost moments on today’s empty fields can never be recovered. I know much has been lost to the pandemic—graduation celebrations, wedding receptions, travel plans, summer days before heading off to college—a whole host of missed opportunities. But these are adult things, or on the cusp, where a lesson in the vicissitudes of life can reap benefits down the line.

Ten-year-old boys don’t need such lessons at that moment in life, they’ll have time for that later. But they can never regain the moments of standing at-bat, the thwack of a ball on a wooden (never aluminum) bat, and the pure joy of making it in to score a run.

Standing in the late afternoon sun, on a warm and humid August day, even playing right field to minimize the chances of actually having to catch a fly ball,  is as close as one can come to pure joy in this life. Such is the cost of these challenges we face.

A field of dreams lost to time, and memories left unmade.


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Diluting the Joy of Memory

There was a time when having one’s picture taken required planning and someone with skill. After staging the subject and composing the shot, one sat still as the photographer took the picture.

Depending on the location the group broke up, waited for the flash effect to fade, then waited for the picture to be developed. Viewing the image required patience. It could be days or even weeks before one saw the results.

I often go for long walks in Cumberland. Along Mendon Road, I pass a faded sign for Rowbottom studios. Mr. Rowbottom was the official school photographer throughout my grammar school days. If you look up patience in the dictionary I would bet his picture is there.

I have vague memories of being forced to wear nice clothes, meaning ones without patches on the knees from our schoolyard basketball games, sometimes even a dreaded tie on the day set for school pictures.

All day in my least comfortable clothes waiting to be summoned for my turn to follow the instructions on where and how to sit, to smile, to “hold that pose” until Mr. Rowbottom was satisfied with the result.

Several weeks later, an envelope would be passed out in school containing the pictures. They thrilled my mother, I looked and shrugged. “Yeah, they’re nice. Can I go play baseball now?”

I wish I had been more appreciative for her. The joy of those captured moments of a young boy all too soon grown is a precious thing.

It’s all different today. More pictures are taken in one day today than in perhaps all of the time between the first photograph and the invention of digital imaging. There are probably more pictures of cats taken in one day than there were of all the students at Ashton School all those years ago.

My daughter has more pictures of her dogs than the population of North America.

The joy of those photographs diluted by technology. No one waits for a picture to appear anymore. No kid has to sit through a session with a skilled photographer to capture the stages of their lives. Today, every moment is memorialized; robbing it of its uniqueness.

No one has to remember what went on. They merely flick through some screens and there it is.

A friend posted a picture on-line the other day. You see, I appreciate that some technology is useful. Here’s the picture,


This is one of the few pictures taken that day. Some parents may have shot pictures during the game but I’ve never seen them. The picture captures a moment in each of those lives frozen in time. 1968 Cumberland-Lincoln Boys Club Champion Tigers in Cumberland Rhode Island.

There’s no video, no Facebook page, no online archive of thousands of images of each moment of that day. Just this single image of seventeen proud and happy boys celebrating a memorable summer day.

The picture helps me remember that day. Remember those moments of a more innocent time. It reminds me to refresh those memories every once in a while. Anything more than that dilutes the magic.