I Stole This Baseball
We vacationed recently in northern Michigan. On our way home, instead of staying a night in Chicago like we had planned, we decided to stop in my “home town” of South Bend, Indiana. I lived in South Bend from the ages of 6 to 12 on Arbor Drive, a tree-lined street populated by Notre Dame professors, a few businessmen, and a sports journalist.
I came alive in South Bend. I started taking piano lessons, playing sports, and singing in choirs. I met my very first best friend, joined the Cub Scouts, and started exploring the vast woods behind our neighborhood.
Though I’ve been there a couple times in the past fifteen years, most of the town seemed unfamiliar. But when we turned the corner into my old neighborhood, I felt I could have described nearly every house with my eyes closed.
The pool where I took swim lessons was open, kids cannonballs off the side. We spent our fourth of Julys at that pool, playing games and winning cheap prizes like a Paddle Ball or Wooly Willy.
Then there was the school. The old playgrounds were gone and they’d put on an addition, but it still looked like the place I made the friends whose names I’ll never forget: Benjamin R., Chris C., Adam S., Garrison, Jason, Navid (who we all treated badly).
It’s where I learned to read. Where I won a school-wide songwriting contest.
I drove the path my sister and I walked to school everyday. I pointed out my favorite spots:
“That kid had the first Atari in the neighborhood.”
“That’s where we played ghost in the graveyard.”
“I used to play basketball in that driveway. And babysit their evil dog.”
We drove by my old house and my best friend’s house. Both had the most neglected yards on the street, and it made me feel a little sad.
Then we drove back up to the school’s baseball field. I learned how to pitch, catch, and pick up a grounder on that field. I got hit in the face with more than one ball, and never really learned how to hit. I played pick-up games with my friends, and played on various teams named after local businesses, including the first place division winners Prairie View Landfill.
Right then and there, I played a pretend baseball game with my kids. I stepped up to the flattened mound. I threw an imaginary ball, and they all ran the bases.
While we were there, my son found a baseball hidden in the tall grass along the backstop. I decided to steal it.
My song Daredevil Hill has a line: “I sure wish this man still had the heart of that boy.” I wish I was as awake to the world as I was back then. Wish I cultivated my friendships as well. Wish I had the same sense of adventure.
And, spending those few minutes there, I think I got a little of it back.
Tell me about your hometown in the comments below. Curious if this brings back any memories.