I’ve been caught up in The Art of Fielding, which is described as a book about baseball but not about baseball. Which is why I think I initially related to it since I grew up with baseball but I’m not about baseball either.

I was always surrounded by dedicated sports fans, the two most popular sports at the time being baseball during the warm months and football during the cold. There wasn’t a weekend afternoon that didn’t have a radio on out in The Patio, the gathering place carved out in between the four apartment buildings where I grew up.

The radio usually belonged to Benny who cradled it like a puppy in the angular bend of his arm. First it was a transistor with a piercing silver antennae, then eventually gave way to a larger combination turntable and AM/FM receiver. I didn’t understand why he traveled with this since he never played a record on it but then again, I didn’t understand much about baseball either.

At some point in the afternoon, The Cow would show up, his hair wet after the shower he took after the usual challenge by Bow in a schoolyard one-on-one basketball game. Underneath his arm was either a copy of the Daily News or the New York Post that would be unrolled and flipped over immediately to the sports news in the back. Headlines were sacrificed in the search for scores and game replays and the group would generally gravitate towards him on the bench, either sitting next to him or behind, peering over his shoulders at the pages.

Never understood why I didn’t pick up on either the romance or addiction to baseball and football. Not that I didn’t like the game and actually enjoyed playing it. Growing up in Brownsville, I belonged to the Rutland Little League and looked forward to the Saturday afternoon games. I think it was the uniform that attracted me, most especially the stirruped socks that fit over my thicker store bought socks adding a bit of style to an otherwise baggy costume. Somehow it made me feel like a pro – even though I wasn’t a standout player.

I wasn’t at the top of the ranks but lived somewhere in the middle of the talent field. Had no favorite position but usually ended up as catcher since I guess I provided a fairly large target. Don’t know what my stats were and generally I couldn’t do any damage squatting behind the plate. Except when I was up at bat and even there my hitting was somewhat average except when the opposing pitcher put it low and outside and I could be counted on socking it over the outfielder’s head.

Had no favorite team but became obsessed about the home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. I felt closer to The Mick since I had read his biography and was caught up in his, and his father’s, devotion to the game, and his ability to bat either right or left handed. Maris seemed like a loner, always scowling, while Mick always seemed to show his humor with a huge midwestern grin. And when Maris passed Mantle in the race, I would make up stories about Maris, casting him as evil and unfairly taunting the true hero of the game.

My only other connection to sports were baseball cards and only because of the street game we played with them, flipping them heads and tails until someone won the pot at our feet. I never got a Mantle card in the gum pack which probably also ruined my taste for spectator sports.

These days my two kids are devoted to sports and my son picks up the paper and flips to the back pages the way Cow did nearly 40 years ago. He’s a Yankees fan but inexplicably, my daughter is a Philadelphia Phillies fan which doesn’t make sense even to me since we live out here in the suburbs of New York, where everything seems to be Yankees, Giants, and Jets.

Then again not much makes sense to me about this new game with multiple divisions and pre-championship competitions. But the series is over and a New York team wasn’t in it so there was no real reason for me to get that interested.

But now that football season has started, maybe someone can please help me understand why the last four minutes of Sunday football takes an hour and a half…

[Simultaneously posted at the Glen Cove Patch…]