Dogs and Baseball Heroes Die Too Soon

Nov. 28, 2018  My older brother, normally mean-spirited in the older sibling sort of way, once let me wear his Milwaukee Braves hat. In the style of the day, it had baseball cards stiffening the crown. The bill was folded into a box-like configuration. The older brother wasn’t much of a ballplayer but was particular about style. For a seven-year-old boy, living in a world where baseball was the one and only king, I had an immediate affiliation with the Braves. The wearing of the hat connected me to the world of Spahn, Aaron, Mathews, and Adcock.

Back then, baseball danced across three mediums, radio, television, and imagination. And within our family’s modest lifestyle, television was notably bad. Still, powerful memories formed. Maz circling the bases after hitting the home run that beat the Yankees in 1960. Willie McCovey coming oh-so-close to beating the hated Yankees in the 1962 series. Even in defeat, McCovey was an early hero. Perhaps it was the nickname, “Stretch”. It helped that he also hit a lot of home runs and was generally pictured with Willie Mays. It seemed as though nicknames of this era inspired a level of sub-visual stickiness. You can visualize “Stretch”, “Hammerin’ Hank”, or “Stan the Man”. These pictures were plausible pieces of real estate in a kid’s mind.

In the realm of heroes, much of the messaging was locally controlled. Our knowledge was built from baseball cards, box scores from The Trenton Times, and the arguments of young boys. Celebrity dating, growth hormones, contract disputes, and advanced statistics were not part of the conversation. Our love was pure. There was nothing that could over-ride our imagery.

In life, reality and imagination never really square. The actuarial tables rule with an iron fist and ballplayers age and pass. And so, Willie “Stretch” McCovey died this week. This ignites a contemplation. Is it the passing of the person or the reconnection to the long-dormant memory that force the pause? Perhaps I block the memories of my pre-ALS self. There was a time when I ran, caught, threw, and hit. And in my eleven-year-old mind, I could scoop the low throw just like Stretch McCovey. But I could never hit the long ball. That was the province of heroes. Nov. 1, 2018

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