An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…
“I don’t have any narrowly focused special interests, no all-consuming obsessions-not during childhood.”
I protested my diagnosis, but only for a moment.
I knew all the players; I knew their numbers.
I knew the line-up; I knew all the stats.
I knew the TV airtimes; I didn’t miss a game.
I knew the route to Copperstown, NY, where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located, although, we never made the trip. I had a map.
Baseball was my obsession. I was four years old.
During “practice,” the times that my father and I played ball in the driveway, I was coached by one of my three baseball men. Dad and I threw the ball back and forth. When I threw to him I was pitching and Catfish was right there telling me how to stand, where to look, and how to lift up my leg like he does on the mound at the stadium.
When Dad threw the ball to me, I was a catcher. I did not stand up straight like other children did to catch the ball. I crouched down as per instructed by Thurmon. I positioned my glove between my legs, adjusted my imaginary face place, and prepared to catch the ball. I was extraordinarily talented according to my “coaches,” my “friends.” I was not a modest child.
Since I needed pitching and catching coaches, it makes sense that I chose a batter from the team to coach me when it was my turn to hit. I would have flipped for something like this swing path trainer, but I also definitely needed that input that only a human coach can give. Reggie taught me how to stand with my feet squarely facing home plate, where to position my hands on the bat, and continually reminded me to keep my eye on the ball.
I wonder what my father’s role in all our baseball playing was. Did he know he was just the guy who needed to throw that ball to me, catch when I pitched it back, and run after the balls I hit with the bat like Lou Piniella did in the outfield-or like Graig Nettles, number 9, on third base? My coaches taught me everything I needed to know about baseball-at least in my mind they did.
In return for all their help, my three baseball men accompanied us on family outings, ate dinner with us, and I often made them hot dogs for lunch. This is also when my extensive baseball card collection began, Yankees only of course.
1979 was a sad year for baseball. Thurmon Munson died in plane crash, and Catfish Hunter retired. Two of my three baseball men were gone. My imaginary friends did not outlive their physical lives, or the Yankee baseball careers for that matter. But-1979 was the year the Yankees picked up Dave Righetti.
Dave Righetti; number 19.
Righetti started pitching for the NY Yankees in 1979, and although he did not become one of my imaginary friends, he rapidly became my favorite player. In 1981, Dave Righetti was assigned number 19, the day of my birth, thus started my lifelong obsession with the number 19.
I was wrong. I did have special interests and all-consuming obsessions even when I was very young.