If everyone had a lifetime sports highlight reel, you could probably play mine during the commercial break of someone else’s.
There would be five plays on it:
1. About 1962, Queens, NY. I’m eight years old, playing center field on my Little League team because of my outstanding range and, not incidentally, because not many eight-year-olds can hit the ball to the outfield. My job consists mostly of picking up ground balls that have gone through the shortstop’s legs and come to a stop somewhere in my vicinity. Then, one day, someone actually hits a fly ball in my direction. I go back on it . . . then I come in on it . . . then I stumble a little while returning to my original location . . . and then the ball lands in my glove. My teammates applaud in amazement.
2. About 1968, Goddard Junior High School playground, Queens, NY. The Howard Beach Whoever-Was-Around-That-Day-All-Star basketball team is playing full court against a team from just over the Brooklyn border. We had been down 22 in the second half, but are in the midst of a huge comeback, and now trail by only a point in the final seconds. Well, not really the final seconds, because there is no one to time the game, which is a good thing, because we have been playing for about four hours. The score is 99-98 and the first team to 100 wins.
A wayward pass leads to a loose ball, which I get to and slam off the knee of an opponent. It goes out of bounds. I inbound to Gary, who bounces it to Marty, who inexplicitly tosses it back to me. I’m open at the top of the key because the other team is much more concerned about Jeff, who is really good. I shoot . . . and miss! But Jeff gets the rebound and scores on a lay-up. We win. What a comeback!
3. About 1978, Long Island. I’ve driven from Queens to play on my cousin Jack’s softball team. I’m a pretty good pitcher and I can hit the ball directionally to get singles pretty much whenever I want. There are two outs and the bases are loaded, but we’re down three runs in the last inning. I’m up, and Vinnie, who can’t hit a lick, is on deck. I know our only chance is if I uncharacteristically hit the ball a long way. So I take a mighty swing and . . . there it goes–over the left fielder’s head.
This would be a good time to mention two things:
- The field had no outfield fences so the ball could keep rolling forever.
- I have never been a fast runner even when I was in my twenties and looked like I might be.
So there I am, chugging toward third base as the left fielder chases down the ball. The three base runners have scored and we’ve tied the game and if I can turn this into a home run, we’ve won and I’m a hero. But there’s my cousin Jack, coaching third base, holding up his hands. He knows what I’m thinking, because he, too, is aware that Vinnie is on deck. “You’ll never make it!” he shouts, meaning either that I will be thrown out at the plate or that I will die if I try to run even one more foot. (To this day, 40 years later, I can still hear Jack shouting “You’ll never make it”–those exact words.) So I stop at third. Vinnie grounds out weakly. We lose in extra innings.
Afterwards, I ask my first wife if she’d seen my hit, and she admitted that she had been in the parking lot talking to Jack’s wife. Certainly not the reason why she became my first wife, but it didn’t help.
4. About 1979, Central Park, NY. I have just separated from my first wife and moved to a Manhattan apartment on the Upper West Side. I’m walking through Central Park on a Sunday morning and discover a pick-up touch football game looking for players. I volunteer, and am positioned at cornerback because the strangers on my team do not know about my lack of speed. I line up against the other team’s pass receiver and realize . . . it is Geraldo Rivera. Yes, mustache and all! Neither one of us was involved in a play, but, hey, I covered Geraldo Rivera!
5. About 1982, Central Park, NY. I am the coach of the Foote Cone & Belding co-ed softball team in the advertising agency league. I am also the third baseman. A member of the hated Young & Rubicam team hits a little nubber down the line. I bare-hand it and throw a strike to first base, getting her by a step. It was an inconsequential play in the scheme of things, but, I thought, very professional. One of the Y&R players even said, “Nice play.”
I bring up my highlight reel now because I’ve been watching the Little League World Series on ESPN. I may be one of the few people in the viewing audience who does not know any of the players (especially when it’s, like, Montana vs. Idaho). But I enjoy watching a baseball game when the players actually run out pop flies, unlike the millionaires in the Major Leagues. It’s also fun when a hitter gets called out on strikes on a horrible call, and you know they’ve been told not to argue and just run back to the dugout, but you can just about see their little undeveloped brains wondering what else can be done with an aluminum bat and an umpire.
Anyway, it occurred to me during a replay review (really? In Little League?), that by the time these kids are 20 or so, they’ll have actual highlight reels. I don’t mean just because they are playing a Little League game on national TV, but because their entire lives have been digitally recorded, possibly beginning from the moment they were born.
I mean, my daughter Casey, who’s entire athletic career consisted of wandering onto a soccer field for about five minutes and then saying “I don’t like this,” still has all her big hits of life on compact VHS, transferred to DVD. And that was before parents became permanently attached to smart phones with video capabilities.
I can’t watch my life like my daughter can, like the Little Leaguers can, like my new granddaughter will be able to. I have to just remember the highlights.
Of course, that means I can also embellish them as much as I want.
See you soon.