Sleepless on Long Island: Remembering My First Pitchback

I’m struck by a memory this morning and thought I’d write it down before, you know, it all evaporates into the mist of dementia. I’m not there yet!

One week when I was young — let’s guess that I was six or seven — my elderly grandparents came to watch us while my parents went away on a trip. This was a rare and usual thing for our family. 

At that time, I was infatuated with baseball and “ball games” of any description. I’d fill hours by playing imaginary games, keeping score in notebooks. I’d throw a Spaulding against the back of our house, perfecting my Jerry Koosman-inspired windup. Whap, whap, whap, endlessly against the red shingles.

Well, grandpa was old and he needed his naps. He slept in my oldest brother Neal’s room — who must have been away at Princeton at the time — which was right next to the target for my incoming missiles. 

The poor guy couldn’t sleep a wink. 

Here’s the amazing part. They could have easily forbid me from doing the thing I loved most of all. Entirely reasonable request. Grandpa needs his sleep. But they didn’t. Instead, the next day, my grandparents arrived with a pitchback they’d purchased at a local sports store. “Here you go, slugger, use this as a target. Just, please, no more slamming against the house.”

Wonder of wonders. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.

Man, I loved that pitchback. Sploing, sploing, sploing. We positioned it under our backyard apple tree and I played for hours every day while Grandpa, I hope, got his rest.

That’s called problem-solving, folks. And kindness. I didn’t fully get it at the time, but I do now. 

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