Ballpark Memories & Cheese Fries

By Mike Whitehead

Amid the office chit-chat one morning, I overhead one of our account representatives –– Jamie Clute –– talking about her youngsters play youth baseball. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a baseball game, so I asked Jamie if I could come to the Little League park and watch her son, Zachary, play.

From the first inning, I had a great time. It was a nice evening with a little breeze, and the teams were fun to watch –– the youngsters were really into playing hard. At Jamie’s suggestion, I ordered the cheese fries from the concession stand. At work, Jamie has good critical thinking skills, but cheese fries was among her best ideas.

Watching the game, I couldn’t help but think back to my days participating in sports. There wasn’t a summer day I didn’t practice or play baseball as a kid.

All of us felt so grown up wearing those flannel uniforms just like the major leaguers. Our caps were treated with the utmost care, and the bill of the cap had to be shaped just right. I really felt like a major league player when I was 13 –– it was the first time we could wear spikes on our shoes. That was big-time to us. (Since I’m talking about flannel uniforms and spikes on shoes, you know I’m talking about way, way back in the day.)

Zachary, who was pitching that evening, did a great job. It didn’t take long for me to tell he has natural athletic ability. It reminded me of my best friend, Nicky Accardo who also was a great athlete. Because Nicky was so good (he was a standout in college and could have played professionally but opted for a business career), I had to keep up.

We didn’t think of practice as something we were forced to do. We were just having fun, playing the game we loved to play. You can’t help but improve when you are pitching, catching and batting from sunup to sundown.

But I couldn’t wait for game day. I still can smell that freshly-cut grass in the infield and the warm sun on a Saturday afternoon. I always was a little nervous with anticipation, but it was a good nervous because I wanted to do well and I wanted the team to do well.

As it turned out, Nicky and I played on the same team for a couple of years. He was a pitcher and I was a catcher. Because we practiced every day, we knew exactly what the other was thinking at all times.

When you are a youngster, you don’t realize how much team sports impact your adult life. You learn a lot about working together, counting on everyone to do his part, knowing they are counting on you to do your part.

It was a great time in my life –– practicing every day, playing a couple of times a week, buying baseball cards when I saved enough money, talking baseball with my grandfather, who played professionally. My dad was our coach, and we had that bond, as well.

Then, all of a sudden, I woke up one day, and I had children playing sports. That was so much different than I imagined. Don’t get me wrong; it was great fun going to the games. But in some respects, it is an excruciating exercise.

Your heart beats fast because you don’t want your child to play poorly. You just hope she or he plays great. It’s hard to explain, really. Intellectually, you know mistakes will be made in every aspect of life, including sports. You just don’t want it to be your child making those mistakes during a game. And you don’t want anyone else on the team playing badly, either.

It’s true –– it’s much easier to play sports than it is to watch your child playing sports. When you are playing, you are in control of the outcome. It’s just the opposite when you watch your child.

I was never a parent that yelled and screamed, especially in a negative way. I never understood rabid parents, yelling at their kids or yelling at umpires and referees. What kind of lesson and role model is that for impressionable youngsters?

I never pushed the kids one way or another. I just wanted them to keep busy, whether it was basketball, tennis, softball, volleyball or dance. In fact, I was more impressed that they made good grades than I was at their athletic ability.

All of our kids aren’t kids any more. They are well into adulthood; in fact, now we have grandkids. That means we can watch another generation play sports. I just have to make sure that wherever they play, the concession stand has cheese fries.