Category Archives: The Journo

Whose Name Was on Your First Baseball Glove?

Brooks Robinson, a Second Hand Glove, and My Pops

There are a lot of firsts in life: first day of school, first kiss, first car, and first baseball glove to list a few. Do you remember whose name was on your first baseball glove? It’s an easy question if you spent any amount playing baseball. I was never a very good baseball player but I do remember that first glove, the player whose name was on it, and time spent with my Pops.

When my parents signed me up for park district baseball my Pops gave me one of his old gloves, a Brooks Robinson model made by Rawlings. I’ll admit I had no idea who Brooks Robinson was (I was only seven and wasn’t an Orioles fan). My Pops used that glove for a few years before he gave it to me, and he was always serious about conditioning his gloves. By the time he gave it to me it was broken in beautifully.  I felt a little embarrassed that first day of practice. I was the only kid with a ‘used’ glove. All the other kids had shiny gloves that smelled of new leather and seemed to fit their hands perfectly. I stood there with a glove that saw its fair share of dirt, smelled more of oil than leather, and was a bit big for my size. Yep, I was definitely the odd man out.

After batting practice, the coach had us line up and started hitting us ground balls. Those grounders would not stay in those new gloves. The ball seemed to bounce out not matter how hard those kids would try. As for me, I was able to scoop up everything that came my way. I wasn’t any better than those other kids, but I did believe I had a secret weapon. I thought my Pops gave me a special glove (I didn’t know the importance of breaking in a glove at seven) that just seemed to suck up anything that came near it. Years later I learned one of Robinson’s nicknames was “Mr. Hoover” and chuckled about my first day of practice. Even after my short lived career in park district baseball (I was eleven) I continued to use that glove for many years. I spent hours fielding a rubber ball against the side of my school with that glove and for countless pick-up games with friends. I also used that Rawlings Brooks Robinson glove to play catch with its original owner, my Pops.

I don’t have that Brooks Robinson glove any more. The lacing on it finally gave out years ago, and by that time I’d outgrown pick-up games with friends and catch with Pops. I do have the last glove my Pops used before he passed away. It’s a Louisville Slugger TPS, and like every glove my Pops ever owned it’s broken in beautifully. Every now and again I take that glove and a rubber ball to the church a few blocks from my house. I spend a half hour or so fielding grounders and I reminisce about pick-up games from past days, and sometimes I pretend I’m playing catch with Pops.


The Rain Delay

or Rain Delays, Procrastination, and a Poorly Constructed Metaphor

A steady rain has been falling for the past fifteen minutes. I find myself in a diner typing this while sitting through a rain delay of sorts. The rain has delayed me from finishing a photography project I started earlier, but the rain has also given me a moment to think about why I’ve delayed writing this Journo. I figure I’d write a few words about rain delays and how they are not the same as procrastination.

Once batting orders are turned in, the decision to call a rain delay falls to the umpire-in-chief. The umpires follow a set of rules concerning rain delays, postponing a game for later play, or declaring a rain shortened game. The players have no say in making these decisions. The rain outside keeping me from my from my project is similar to this. I have no control over the weather, but putting off writing this Journo has nothing to do with the rain. I have notes covering a few different topics that could have been used for this post but I haven’t developed any of them. I often avoid working on one project by working on different project. No matter how I try to justify my procrastination it’s still procrastination. Because of my procrastination I’m typing this because the rain is keeping me from the project that was going to keep me from typing this.

What’s the take away from today’s rain delay? First, there will be times when a project you are working on will be delayed due to circumstances beyond your control (think of this as a rain delay). Second, don’t create your own rain delays (unless you are Crash Davis from Bull Durham) to avoid playing a game (finishing a project). Stay focused on the game (project) and don’t allow yourself to get distracted.


Kmart, Ghosts, and Going Home Again

How a Story About Baseball Connects All Three

Big Kmart (#274-editj22.36)Big Kmart

Somebody, somewhere, sometime said, “You can never go home again.” I thought of that cliché when I came across the photo “Scott Street #2” when I was organizing some photos a while back. It is a photograph of an apartment I lived in many years ago. The building is long gone. A strip mall stands in its place. The photo and that cliché got me thinking about idea of home and what it means. Is home a physical place or an emotional state of mind? Can we go back home? Would we want to if we could? As I got to thinking about these questions my mind drifted to Kmart. What? Kmart you ask? Why Kmart? Hell, I got to thinking the same thing. Stick around and you’ll find out.

Scott Street #2 (#44-edit)Scott Street #2

Kmart was a common shopping destination during my formative years (which was quite a while ago). Before Wal-Mart, Target, or Meijer I made many a trip to Kmart either with my Moms or by myself. I could bore you with a long list of purchases (from my second G.I. Joe action figure, Snake Eyes, to a tie for my first part time job) and memories (the joy of buying my parents birthday gifts or the thrill of looking at prints from my first roll of Kodak 110 film developed at the photo counter) but that’s not the point. Let’s just say seeing Kmart stores being replaced by other store fronts or being demolished rubs some of my sentimental nerves pretty raw.

Yet, those sentimental memories of shopping trips long past couldn’t have been the reason Kmart came to mind when I got to thinking about the idea of home. I kept wondering why this photograph of an old apartment building got me thinking about Kmart? I found the answer tucked away on one of my bookshelves. “K Mart” is the title of a short story from W.P. Kinsella’s Go the Distance Baseball Stories, a book I read over twenty years ago. I decided to pour myself a tall glass of Wild Turkey Rye, think about the six homes I lived in during the last twenty five years, reflect on the personal impact of once mighty retail chain on the brink of disappearing from our consumer landscape, and reread Kinsella’s short story. Although the title of the Kinsella’s book would lead you to believe it is a collection of baseball stories, it is really much more. Yes, baseball serves an important role in each story, but Kinsella uses the game as a means to address larger issues. “K Mart” is about friendship, the concept of home, the ghosts of one’s past, and how baseball connects all three through the years. There is a line from the story I underlined all those years ago that holds as true today as it did then: “Carrying the leaden ball of what-might-have-been deep within us is not a punishment but a lesson.”
There are some homes I can return to, others I can’t. Some I want to return to, others I don’t. The same can be said for those ghosts (people and events) from my past that float in my periphery, always there but just out of sight. This line from Kinsella’s baseball story serves as a reminder that home (whatever definition you chose to use) is always with us.


A Man I Never Knew…

On a Bracelet I Always Wore

The summer before my frosh year of high school my Pops made a donation to the local VFW and they gave him a POW/MIA bracelet in return.  My Pops gave me the bracelet with no expectations that I wear it.  But I did.  I wore it nearly every day through four years of high school and half way through my frosh year of college until the bracelet wore out and broke into two pieces.  My Pops never asked me why I decided to wear it, but sometimes I’d see him looking at it on my wrist.  My Pops never really talked much about his thirteen months in Vietnam.  Not many people wanted to hear what he had to say when he came home, and after a while I think he just decided to keep it all to himself.  I think that bracelet and the Vietnam Veteran hat that he used to wear were ways for him to communicate his feelings.  The hat was one way to let people know he was proud he served and the bracelet I wore was a way to let people know that many sacrificed all.

My Pops passed away six years ago.  His Vietnam Veteran hat, dog tags, and the flag presented at his funeral are proudly displayed in my home.  I still have the bracelet.  It’s tucked away with some pictures of my Pops from when he was in the Army.  Pictures of my Pops, a man who answered when his country called.  A bracelet with the name of a man I never knew who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.


A Lesson in Patriotism

Service, Patriotism, and Humility

I did not experience a lot of flag waving or political banter about the superiority of the United States while growing up. But I did grow up among men who served. My Pops served in Vietnam. My grandfather served in both World War II and Korea. I had three uncles who served in World War I (one did not return). I had a cousin and another uncle who served in Vietnam. This is nowhere near a complete list of family members who served but it gives you an idea of the type of men I grew up around.

I was surrounded by men who answered the call to service and went to war. After their service these men quietly went about their lives. They got jobs, raised families, and continued to contribute to their communities. They did not brag about their service, but they were never ashamed to say that when their nation called, they answered. Most of these men have passed away, and all have military headstones. One the lessons these men taught me is that a patriot is humble in word and deed. He defends what he believes is right without a desire for glory. A true patriot believes in what his country can be.


Action Figures, Comic Books, and Patriotism

How G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Inspired Patriotism in a Nine Year Old

How old were you when you started taking part in patriotic missions to protect the United States (dare I say the free world) from the evil forces of Cobra Command? I’m wagering there is one group out there that can give me an age and another group that is debating whether or not to keep reading. I’m hoping I have a little something here for both groups. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero instilled a sense of patriotism in me as I read the comics and played with the toys in the early 1980s.

I was nine years old when I bought (actually my Moms bought it) G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero issue #4. At that time I had one G.I. Joe action figure, Breaker (my Moms also bought it). That comic book and action figure were the beginning of countless hours of reading and imaginative play. I read other comics before G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and played with other action figures before the Hasbro toy line was introduced, but the combination of an ongoing comic book and an associated toy line created a mythology I could immerse myself in. It was this mythology of top secret soldiers defending their country without a need or desire for praise and glory that introduced me to the idea of patriotism.

Larry Hama, the writer of the comic book, gave the characters (which were also Hasbro action figures) developed back stories and interesting personalities. Each month I would read an issue of the comic, and Hama’s stories would influence how I played with the action figures. The comic and accompanying toys allowed me to be part of a world where brave men and women fought evil foes in order to protect the United States. What made it all seem so patriotic was that the soldiers of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic operated in secret. There was no glory, no marching bands, and no book deals to accompany their actions. These soldiers fought because it was their duty to protect the innocent. They defended their country because they felt it was their responsibility as patriots to do no less. My playtime with the action figures followed the example set by Larry Hama. My missions and storylines may not have been as interesting and detailed as Larry Hama’s but I was only nine. I may not have understood some of the finer points of patriotism at that age but Larry Hama helped begin my education.

I stopped playing with the Hasbro action figures after a couple of years but I continued reading the comic book until the end of its run, issue #155. The ideals of patriotism were just one of the many themes that Larry Hama addressed in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. I know that my definition of patriotism is different now than it was in the 1980s, but I also know that the comic book and action figures were an integral part in the development of that definition.


Speak Up the Devil…

or Maybe Just Rain, Hail and a Tornado Siren

This month has been dedicated to the topic of rain, and the Midwest has gotten quite a bit of rain these past few weeks.  If I believed in luck (good or bad) I’d think I spoke the rain up. But luck isn’t to blame as much as a run of bad weather.  That run of bad weather has lasted through this Memorial Day weekend. Today we got a little more than rain where I live.

On my way home from running a few errands I got caught in quite a storm.  It started with some fast moving dark clouds.  Those dark clouds quickly released rain, heavy rain.  I’m talking the kind of rain that limited visibility to about 100 feet. Then the hail started falling.  It wasn’t the largest hail I’ve seen, these were marble sized.  The hail storm was brief, about five minutes. The rain stopped about ten minutes after that and the sun came out.  It was that bright sun with that eerie kind of quite that makes Midwesterners a little nervous.  About a minute after the nervousness set in I could hear the local tornado sirens.  I got home, gathered up the cat, spent a half hour in my basement, and now I’m typing this (after no tornadoes touched down near me).  I’ve never been a fan of hail (nobody sings or dances in that stuff) and the tornado siren causes its own sort of anxiety.  That siren is meant to give us a warning to take shelter. Anybody who has seen the aftermath of a tornado knows that the warning isn’t protection and shelter is sometimes just a matter of luck (which is hard to accept if you don’t believe in it).

I know a lot of people have been complaining about the amount of rain we have been getting lately, but a tornado siren sure can put those complaints in perspective.  We’ve been lucky where I live.  There hasn’t been any flooding or serious damage caused by the rain.  Yes, it’s been a soggy few weeks.  Yardwork has been put on hold and picnics have been canceled because of the rain, but the sound of a tornado siren is a reminder that there is something worse than rain out there.