Baseball is very much ‘out there’ just now in these parts.The minds of many are on the sport because of playoff appearances by UNO and Creighton, plus the Huskers heartbreaking close call in making it to a super regional in the NCAA playoffs. (Note to self: Be careful who you choose to pitch to, and when if he’s a big bomber. Who knows, dude might just drain your pool with one eviscerating swing of the bat.)
Of course the resignation/retirement of Darin Erstad, a classy guy by all measures, turned into the major Nebraska baseball story by the time it was all said and done.
But wait. Not so fast there buddy. It’s not all said and done until I trot out my personal baseball story.
Baseball history began for me when, as little Stevie in North Platte, I first took up the game.
We had a team and we played other teams. No big ‘system’ and certainly no knee socks and cleats. Just a bunch of kids playing another bunch of kids on a perfectly average field in a park somewhere.
I did well in North Platte. It was fun even. I led my team in two or three season stats. I recall one was batting average and another was extra base hits, though there might have been one or two more.
My dad blatantly threw right at my nose when we played catch while he was home to lunch or after work, so for me it became a necessity to develop a decent glove or suffer permanent disfigurement.
It seemed at the time like baseball would carry right through my youth.
Then Dad’s job required a move to Kearney where youth baseball - whether right or wrong - was handled very differently.
In Kearney I found a system of major league teams, each with its own farm system. It mirrored MLB in many aspects including the fancy uniforms, long stockings under pants gathered at the knee, pinstripes, leather cleats … the whole bling-encrusted shebang.
As best faded memory is able to conjure there were two lesser teams below each major league squad. I landed on the greater of two lesser teams and there, in the middle tier, I played.
Until one day the coach from our designated major team came down to give his assigned also-rans a once-over. I was an outfielder at the time and, within earshot, I heard my coach report to the guy from the Bigs that I had a good glove and decent arm, but that I was too slow to chase down much of anything out there.
Still by some miracle apparently I got the nod and up to the Bigs I went. Chest all puffed out. Fancy uniform under my arm. Ready to play on first-rate fields. The whole package.
All the hard work and near-maiming sessions of catch with my dad, it seemed, had paid big dividends for us.
Then I sat on the bench for a week or two until the ‘good’ player returned from vacationing with his family in the South of France or somewhere. He returned to his rightful position in the dugout, I was excused and it was immediately obvious I had been a fill-in bench parrot.
Reassigned back to the minors I surrendered the fancy-pants uniform. I thought Dad would kill someone when he understood what had happened and why.
We made the mutual decision to leave baseball behind at that point, which I did.
Fast-forward to the middle 60s when as a high school kid in Genoa I had some success in basketball. I played football, too, but was of little note on the gridiron.
After much haranguing by my buddies in Genoa I finally - reluctantly given my previous experience - agreed to join the Legion baseball team.
I enjoyed being around my friends, especially away games, but I stunk. Turns out they had me pegged in Kearney all along.
I was so slow there was really nowhere to hide me except first base, where I acquitted myself semi-decent with the glove. Standing 6-4 at the time at least I had a decent stretch.
Though much the same pedestrian player of my inglorious youth, one thing had changed.
It was humiliating obvious that, now, I couldn’t hit &%$# with the bat either.
Do I admire good baseball players? You bet.
Do I watch it? Rarely.
Where do I stand on baseball in general? Meh.