I played in the Little League World Series. Well, not THE Little League World Series; the Plainfield, NJ Little League World Series. Year? 1962. I was on the Braves. Our side of town was the National League and the other side was the American League. We were pitted against the dreaded Indians. Plainfield had the minor league and major league according to age, ability etc. This was the minors and we were pumped. I wasn't sure why I was playing shortstop as a lefty. But mine was not to reason why. I was doing some pitching earlier in the year. Ya know that feeling when you're in the zone? When our coach was trying out pitchers I was throwing smokin' strikes with a little jump on them. I don't know where that came from. I started the first game and proceeded to hit the first two batters. Pals of mine. So much for the "zone." I could still bring the heat but never knew where the ball would wind up. I settled in as the occasional relief pitcher, first baseman and shortstop.
The season wore on and we kept on winning. As a team we were in the "zone." And so...here we were. The "World" series! Our field on the corner of Rock and Myrtle Ave was pretty cool as these fields went. Outfield fence with advertisers. Dugouts. Bleachers. But the field on the other side of town....Seidler Field had....LIGHTS!!!!! WHAAAAATTTT!? And....infield grass! Now here was the rub. The managers were given the option to use players from the majors. We went with what got us there. The other side didn't. I always thought our manager made the right decision. Even though the outcome was pretty well sealed. The first game was on our field at Rock and Myrtle. I was starting at shortstop and batting second. We took the field and I settled into self defense mode as these guys were hitting rockets to short and third. Caught some. Missed some. Never saw some. We didn't fare much better on offense. Bobby grounded out to second on the first pitch. I stepped in and suddenly it seemed like the distance between home and the pitcher's mound had shrunk. This was one big boy. But as our coach said, "He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like you." Really? That old nugget? Never saw the first pitch. The ump screamed, Striiiiiike!" I said, "Sounded like a ball." No reaction. He was throwing straight fastballs so I just dug in and swung. Cracked a line drive toward second that this guy with a two day growth reached up and grabbed. So that's how it was gonna be. We lost 22 - 0. We'd get 'em next time. Well....maybe not.
Next stop...Seidler field. Under the lights! Man, did that feel cool throwing it around pregame under those lights. The first Indian batter...all six feet of him......drilled a line drive toward me. I leaped and it smacked into my glove. One away! That was pretty much the highlight for me. Their pitcher was good but not as good as the last guy. They only beat us 18 - 2. They won the third game and the Plainfield 1962 World Series was in the books. To our team's credit there was no bellyaching. We gave it our best shot and against all odds.....lost. I made some plays, committed some errors and got one hit. Some of the parents weren't too happy with the way things went down. Mine were cool. The awards dinner at Clinton School was a little awkward. We picked up our trophies and ate some rubber chicken. Standing on the stage with the Indians the size/age difference was obvious and their players seemed a little embarrassed. I went in thinking we were the ones who were going to be embarrassed but lo and behold we were standing "tall" and they seemed a little....slouchy. Even their coach. He who laughs last...right? Everyone in the room knew what was what. A life lesson? Dance with the one what brung ya? I don't think a situation like that could happen in the politically correct atmosphere of today; even playing field and all. If I remember correctly I think the Indians even got bigger trophies. I hung on to my trophy for many years but somewhere along the line it disappeared.
There's something about that David vs Goliath thing that everyone has to face at one time or another. I moved to Piscataway in eighth grade and joined the wrestling team in ninth grade. I had never wrestled and never even saw a wrestling mat until I walked into the wrestling room off the Conackamack junior HS gym. Up to this point I thought wrestling was the stuff from Washington we'd watch on Saturday nights. But I enjoyed it and got into great shape. Again....here's the rub. There's always a rub. I weighed 132 lbs. The 136 lb slot was filled. The 141 lb slot was filled. I'd be wrestling at 148 lbs. Ouch! I managed to not get pinned for the first few matches. On the bus rides back the coach would go through the matches. When it got to me he'd say, "Lyons, what can I say. You deserve the purple heart." I had no interest in a purple heart. I just wanted to wrestle a guy my own weight and see how I could have done! A few matches down the road I had to wrestle the state champ from the year before. Lots of slaps on the back and well wishes during the day but we all knew the grim outcome. The very next week I had to wrestle the guy who had beaten the state champ a few weeks earlier. Dang. Pinned. Back to back weeks. So....where's my purple heart? Oh...so life's not fair? Everyone doesn't get a trophy.....? I can't blame the coach. He wanted to win as many matches as possible. I was the best guy left for that slot. I guess that says something. My teammates knew. And that's what really mattered.
The Plainfield Little League World Series and Piscataway wrestling matches were challenging....but mostly fun. And nothing serious was going to happen. We lost a game. I lost a match. So what. People have bigger challenges; gone up against greater odds with real consequences. Cancer. Single moms. Single dads. Displaced families in the middle of war zones. Challenges. My mom had a rare circulatory disease that eventually killed her. But not before taking both of her legs. Challenges.
What sent me down this road? I'm in Ocean City, MD this week and doing a lot of reflecting. I enjoy reflecting. It reminds you where you've been and where you may or may not be going. I'm 65, have high blood pressure (under control) and still carrying around 20 - 25 extra lbs. But....I went paddle boarding, did lots of swimming, body surfing, rolling around with kids androde the most challenging ride on the OC boardwalk....."The Slingshot." I can also do a handstand, cartwheel, went skydiving recently and can still walk, run and ride a bike as far as I want. This isn't bragging. This is me saying thank you. For no apparent reason .... I'm healthy. I haven't done much to stay healthy but here I am. Some aches and pains but so what. Every morning I say a prayer to..... God? The universe? Whoever's listening. "Thank you for this day and for my continued health." I mentioned my mom. I had a friend/bandmate who died of colon cancer at 41. One of a handful of friends who've left the planet too early. We're all just hangin' on by our fingertips, man. Fragility of life. Many close calls....too many to mention but....still here....healthy....happy. The song goes, "I wish I knew now what I didn't know then." Well, I think I know now what I didn't know then. I mean....I could write a freakin' book! And so it goes. Peace.........