I had another one of those dreams last night. I was playing centerfield and loping across green grass pursuing a white baseball flying under a blue sky.
I ran and ran. …
I sprinted and sprinted. …
The grass went on forever in the largest outfield on God’s green acres and that ball hung in the air, begging to be snagged in my well-oiled, leather glove. Or so it seemed.
I loped and loped. …
I remember days when loping wasn’t a dream. I know it’s hard to believe but I could lope, more or less.
I loved loping. As well as leaping and sliding and diving and rolling over in the dirt after a headfirst dive into second base and spitting out dirt and wiping that infield clay off my softball or baseball uniform.
I loved getting dirty, sporting grass stains and dirt and sometimes even a little blood on my uniforms. In my 20s and 30s in another century my knees were almost always either sporting bloody sores from all that sliding and diving or the fresh scabs of recent dives and slides.
I miss those days.
I even miss the painful moments at work when slacks stuck to a fresh and bloody scab on a knee. I recall gently pulling slacks loose when they stuck to the latest souvenir of a slide the previous day into a base in a game somewhere.
Those days are long gone.
Gone also are the thousands of hours I spent playing pickup basketball on outdoor courts or in rec leagues.
Gone are the days of tearing around first base after slapping a liner down the right-field line in a softball game and then scampering around second on the way to third and a triple.
My scampering days are over.
Gone, gone, gone. .
But I am very fortunate at 66. I’m healthy.
Chronic plantar fasciitis prevents me from running hard but I go on 3-to-4 mile walks. My standard bicycle ride on the Pinellas Trail is about 17 miles. I plan to go to the gym today and put in about 30 minutes on an elliptical machine.
Yes, I am fortunate and healthy to the point of being blessed.
But I still miss playing softball and baseball and basketball and tennis.
For many years I played in softball leagues and traveled around Florida and beyond to play in tournaments. From St. Pete to West Palm Beach to Jacksonville and points farther away – Richmond and Birmingham and Jackson and a place called Kinston, N.C.
People wanted me on their teams. I wasn’t the fastest but I was faster than most. I wasn’t a power hitter but I hit for higher averages than most. I didn’t have the strongest arm but it was stronger than most. I wasn’t the best shortstop or outfielder but I was good wherever a team put me when emergency help was needed.
I remember that happening in a national softball tournament in Kinston. Our slick-fielding starting shortstop was injured. I was playing the outfield and was summoned to fill-in at shortstop.
It was a tight game. It was in the late innings. I seem to recall us clinging to a small lead. The other team had the bases loaded and the infield was wet and the pressure was on and there were two outs.
Naturally, the ball found me. A slow roller was hit my way on that wet infield. I charged and snagged the ball and made an off-balance and accurate throw to first to end the inning and preserve our lead.
My teammates were relieved. I loved those moments.
I also loved the camaraderie of the teams, of guys coming together for a common purpose.
There were so many teams and teammates and games. There must have been thousands of games and I thought they would never end.
But they have.
I played centerfield in youth leagues at a place called Fossil Park in St. Petersburg in the 1960s. I loved being out there and chasing those fly balls and intercepting them as I loped across the green grass of my youth.
There is something magical about playing centerfield, out there with nothing but grass and blue sky and anticipation. Will the next ball be hit my way? Will it be a sinking liner? Or a screamer into right-center or a towering blast over my head?
Yes, it was magical.
As Philip Roth wrote in “Portnoy’s Complaint: “Oh, to be a centerfielder, a centerfielder – and nothing more.”
Now I just play centerfield in my dreams.
What about the ball in the dream I had last night?
Did I catch it?
I don’t know.