March in Arizona means more than basketball madness, it’s also Cactus League baseball season. A couple of weeks ago, I took my Little Leaguer grandson to a ballgame for his 10th birthday.
I like taking my grandsons to the ballpark, where I encourage the abandonment of familial dietary concerns and encourage the eating of whatever crap moves us. This includes the gobbling of peanuts and the indiscriminate dribbling of empty shells. My grandson asked, “How come food that tastes good is bad for you, and food that’s good for you, tastes so bad?” I told him he’s learned an important lesson: if it smells good and tastes good, it’s probably bad for you.
So we proceed to polish off two jumbo bags of peanuts, a couple of foot-long hot dogs, beer, soda and candy (I was sick all night). Bloated into a state of carb-induced lip-flapping reminiscence, I told him how I played baseball as a kid in New York City. That without parks and baseball diamonds, we played a street game called stickball.
“Stickball?” he asked with disbelief, “you played baseball with a stick?”
“Yeah,” I said, “with a broomstick or a sponge mop handle; my mother would get a little upset when she discovered it missing and sometimes broken. We hit a high-bouncing, pink rubber ball we called a ‘Spaldeen’.” We called it that because it was made by Spalding, you know, the people who make baseballs and basketball, but that’s how “Spaulding” is pronounced in New York City.
We’d play it right on the street and if a car or truck came, we moved aside until it passed and went back. A sewer was home plate; any of the bases could be cars, a lamppost, or a chalk mark. We could hit that Spaldeen a mile, and they lasted forever. I waxed poetic about how Carl Furillo, the great right-fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, could hit a Spaldeen the distance of three New York City sewers.
“They stopped making them 30 years ago,” I lamented nostalgically. I told him that I still had one, thinking I might inspire him to treasure this prize, and told him I’d give it to him if he wanted it. He looked at me incredulously and asked “Did you bring it from the old country.”
You know what old is? Old is when your memories are somebody else’s idea of a museum exhibit.