Friday, October 21, 2005

They Don't Make Baseball Like That Anymore

A recent trip to Idaho awakened some pleasant old memories and some sadness. Growing up and spending most of my life in Massachusetts and Rhode Island provides quite a contrast to a heartland state like Idaho, where kids still love to play baseball – anytime, anywhere.

As a child I used to wear out three sets of playmates every day playing baseball. I also spent a good part of a summer on my grandfather’s farm pulling mustard weeds from potato fields just to earn my first baseball glove (it was a Marty Marion). As I look around on the jaded east coast, I don’t see many kids playing that sport anymore. If they do play, it is under the auspices of some organized activity, and the parents are there acting like it’s the end of the world if the umpire calls a strike on their kid.

It wasn’t like that for me and my friends. My parents had other, more important things to do – like survive. All our games were pickup games, with no umpire, and the kid with the ball or bat always had a chance to play. My folks never once saw me play baseball, and it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with that. After all, I was playing. One time my best friend and I walked several miles to stand outside the left field fence where, if we stood on a little hill, we could see the Braves play an exhibition game against the minor league Providence Grays.

A Braves player hit a home run over that fence. Even though it happened well over 50 years ago, I still remember the name of that player – possibly because of what happened. The player was Danny Guardello, and my friend tried to catch the ball bare-handed, but it popped to the ground, where I grabbed it. We then decided that we jointly owned the ball, and the next day, very early in the morning and all alone, we went to the playground where I pitched this prized, major-league ball to him. He tore into it and hit it on a line way over my head. When it landed, it must have rolled forever, because we spent the entire rest of the morning looking for it, and never found it again.

Somehow I think some of those experiences helped me cope with the tragedies and disappointments that everyone faces in life. I wonder if 10 year old kids in uniforms, with professional equipment, playing on well-manicured fields in front of cheering parents and friends learn to cope as well. I have an old friend, Dave, who was my first mentor, and who worked with me at my first real job at EG&G. He was an electrical engineer who designed many new products for the company. He was not only smart, but he was street-smart and taught me things you don’t learn at Harvard. One day I was invited to his house for dinner and met his wife and their teen-aged son, who was the most monstrous, spoiled brat you can imagine. I spent a few hours at their house watching and listening to this brat mouth off to his parents and generally make himself obnoxious, and they didn’t even seem to notice. The next day, I tried, in a tactful and roundabout way, to bring up the subject to Dave. Dave’s response was almost vehement. “I vowed my kid would never grow up deprived like I did”.

Actually I feel sorry for today’s parents. Two big changes that have taken place since I was a child are 1. I never asked my parents for anything because I knew they had no money, and 2. although we were very poor, I was hardly aware of it until high school because everyone else I knew was also poor. When WWII veterans returned from military service, they all seemed to vow that their kids would never go without as they had in their own childhood, which took place during the Great Depression. Times changed, opportunities abounded, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams; but the results of our prosperity haven’t been universally good. Our prosperity has been one of the factors behind the social revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, and our children have grown up with a sense of entitlement that baffles and overwhelms their parents. An extreme example of the consequences of this confusion can be seen in a current news story about a high school principal who has decided to cancel the prom because parents were setting up drinking and sex parties for their kids. My parents didn’t have to say no; today’s parents had better learn how to.

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At 9:39 AM, Anonymous steve said...

Thanks for sharing.
The comments about todays parents and kids is true. Most parents don't want their kids going without, most kids seem to think they're entitled to luxuries. That makes for a bad combination.
I'll add that the "luxuries" are not limited to material things, they extend to include all sorts of expectations of service.


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