DODGER DAZE – return to roots

It was a spine-tingling Dodger daze time, a safer time,
a time of seemingly endless nights and street games,
a time for catching and releasing lightning bugs in a jar,
a time for hide and seek contests under a cloak of stars,
a time echoing with cheers and laughter.
It was a time of huffing and puffing chasing the jingles from the ice cream truck.
It was a time that inspired us to pile pennies and to share split ice pops,
a time when adults kept hands off children’s games.
We evolved into Brooklyn’s empty lot kids from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds.
My pals included a half dozen boys and three dominant female teammates.
When choosing sides for teams, we actually scrapped to select Josephine.
I’d seen her launch a Spaulding stickball as far as two sewers.
Obviously, she’d been scouted by my opponents.
We played on a muddy field blanketed with patterns of irregular stones,
while cratered and scarred automobile tires sat surrounded by walls of weeds,
shattered soda bottles sparkled on our lot like dime store rhinestones.
We trimmed the lot’s weeds in a semi-crewcut style,
then disappeared when swallowed by a maze of reeds while base running.
I sacrificed part of my youth on our primitive field, evidenced by today’s tattered knees.
We sauntered into the adult playgrounds to collect discarded wounded bats
and balls stripped of leather, balls of white string that once served as stitched baseballs.
Surprisingly, those fields occasionally appeared carved into cement or dirt surfaces.
Watching the adult games, we scrambled after foul balls and tossed them back.
We patiently played catch when waiting for their games to end.
Games ended, we sprinted and even dived head first into oil-tank-shaped pails
to extract split and splintered bats and discarded, stringy baseballs.
We jogged to my house and sprawled on its stoop.
We initiated surgical procedures on the wounded bats by inserting screws into the
broken baseball clubs and choked them with electrical tape.
Baseballs were also strangled with a tight layer of slick electrical tape.
Some of our bat surgeons probably wrapped countless aching ankles as adults.
We huddled almost every day completing equipment repair rituals.
Our efforts rewarded us with a gateway to games.
Those seasoned bats and balls presented us with resurrected baseball essentials.
As an adult, I followed the exploits of former players on our reedy lot team.
Many members of our gang developed into high school and college stars.
Unlike the others, I completed a forty-year career as a classroom cavalier.
One of our lot-ball standouts earned a national hall of fame induction.
Browsing thru my 8th grade yearbook, I found that famed one’s inscription to me.
Several years later, when I revisited his page, my lips trembled.
I read that celebrity’s message in my book, “Dated until Tony D hits a home run.”
Those words continue to boil my blood and make my eyes to roll.
We lived a different time indeed.
Our ragtag players from grades 5 to 8 boarded a train a few times a season
and sprinted to the Dodger’s roost at Ebbets Field.
That was the first time the ten year-old me smelled, saw, and touched green grass.
The older kids watched out for younger kids on the subway and in the ballpark.
Our parents approved of our team travel to the Dodger ballpark.
They handed us the few extra cents needed for treats.
Players like Robinson, Snider, and Campanella stood arm’s length from us.
Our jaws dropped.
My buddy Gerard rode to school every day in power-laden Gil Hodges’s car.
Those Dodgers seemed exactly like a neighborhood team.
I remembered the first time I ever saw a hit to right field become an out at first base.
Carl Furillo’s rifle arm forced me into a double take.
He threw out the base runner at first from right field. Wish we had replays in those days.
At the ballpark, our gang hung out together,
sounding like a symphony of strident screamers who’d seen a boa.
We chased home runs onto Bedford Avenue, usually from the Duke’s uppercut swing.
On sweaty summer nights, after our Dodger game, we raced to the stationary store.
That early edition newspaper described our game. I loved the smell of that paper.
I wonder if that influenced my decision to serve as high school newspaper adviser.
Those dazzling Dodger days made their curtain call in 1956.
Dodger owner Walter O’Malley packed his team and hauled them to California.
Immediately after I converted to the Yankee credo.
At times, Brooklyn Dodger memories tiptoed across my mind.
Then, in the Seventies, Sinatra sang a song named, “There Used To Be A Ballpark.”
I imagined it alluded to Ebetts Field. A silent and uninvited tear slid down my cheeks.
Trust me, following consistent clusters of Yankee championships saved my nails
and ¬†proved more pleasant than chanting my Dodger Daze mantra of “Wait ’till next year.”
During my Covid house arrest, however, I watched the Dodgers again.
I  took an interest in the 21st century team and imagined ghosts of their past glory,
phantoms of my childhood Daze?
After more than a half century of disdain, and feeling like a bride abandoned at altar of baseball,
I took a renewed interest in my prodigal team.
I confess that during the 2020 season, I found myself cheering for Dodger Blue once again.