Eight lifetimes, 19 years ago…

(long and too personal, with housekeeping at the end, which might be your only reason to click on…)

Francesa and Russo split up last week, as you might have heard. What struck me hard when I read the stories was when they first were slapped together: September 1989. I’d been thinking a lot about the late ’80s the past couple of weeks for several reasons, but reading that date focused things.

September 1989. The start of ninth grade.

I remember two things about ninth grade, really. Baseball, which was pretty much the common thread of my life from third grade through college. And The Girl In My Science Class. Yes, she still gets capital letters. (Leave me alone; I was 14.)

(ahem) Anyway: baseball.

There was rotisserie league in the spring, which just devolved in the summer, when some people gave up, some people took advantage, some people literally bought players for fivers and tens, and then started trading draft picks when the sales got shot down… It was chaos. Good to have it happen, though. Good to have to deal with people like that. You learn a little about yourself. You learn what you want to be. You learn how you want to conduct yourself; you learn what that’ll cost you, too, because there are costs, both ways.

There was my own baseball. Which wasn’t much, that year. I wasn’t very any good. Loved it with all my heart; stunk at it. Couldn’t hit. Lacked coordination. Poor vision. Poor athlete. My school used to have a sub-JV team that played a few games; they cut it that year, so I was cut, too. I played some intramural games instead. Lots of volleyball and basketball, I think. I know it hurt a bit. I came back the next year and still stunk, but the JV coach let me hang around and keep score. He tossed me a uniform a few games into that year, stuck me into a few games while I kept the book; then he invited me to keep stats for the basketball team the next year, which was invaluable when I started writing about it as a pro. Our football coach then asked me to keep the clipboard for him the following fall, my senior year, which was similarly invaluable later on. (I was the Manager of the Year at my school my senior year, statistician for two teams. “Never baked a brownie,” my baseball coach said; I pulled it out, anyway. There’s not much about me hanging in my room. That award is.)

But back in ninth grade, there was my job. A buddy of mine had a job keeping score for our local Little League, and he wanted to split it up, and he wanted to know if I wanted a piece of the action. Sure, I did.

I did it for a couple of years; I loved it, and I hated it. There were so many people — coaches, umpires, administrators, parents cheering in the stands — who were trying to do good things for the kids, both theirs and others’, and those people were inspirational. The kids, most of them were great, some of them were hilarious, and a few of them were inspirational, too.

And then there were the other parents. The coaches who were pushing the spirit of the rules. The coaches who yelled at the kids, at the kid umpires, at other coaches, at scorekeepers over every hit/error call. The parents who did the same thing.

That job was probably most invaluable, if there’s such a thing. The experience turned into the essay that got me into college.

I complained about the jerks. I complained about organization. I lamented the loss of the sandlots. I lamented that kids weren’t kids, that adults were always supervising. If I didn’t complain about the fact that I even had a job as a scorekeeper for a bunch of 10-year-old kids, I should have. And if there had been a pitch-count rule in 1992, heaven help the admissions officer who would have had to slog through that essay.

Here I was this week, all these years later, at a tournament based on the prototype for all that organization. Why, yes, it did feel kind of creepy.

I was there to fill about 40 column inches a day with stuff about what was happening there. I loved it, and I hated it. Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was hard.

Access to these kids is limited. That’s good. (Although television’s access to these kids thus feels even more creepy, particularly when they expect the print media to treat these kids like infants.) But it stirs anguish in your heart when you’ve got 40 column inches to fill.

They don’t always show up when they lose. (See “access.”) And that’s their right. But again.

They don’t always bring you the kids that you want to talk to. (See “access.”) That’s all good. (Sometimes you can get ’em off the bus before they head home.) But again.

And the kids, bless ’em. You can’t lead ’em on. If you ask ’em yes-or-no questions, from most of them, you’ll get yes-or-no answers, no elaboration. You ask them if they were trying to do anything in particular, you get “get a hit.” (Love it.) They’re not cynical yet; neither are they worldly yet. I asked one kid Sunday, what’s the best part about all this? I was thinking, you know, “hanging out in the dorms,” or “being away from home,” or “singing Il Canto degli Italiani” (wait; that last one was probably just mine). Anthony would have none of that. “Playing baseball,” he replied, not a whit of irony in his voice or on his face.

If you had caught me on the field when I was 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, that’d probably have been my answer, too. I might have elaborated on my yes-or-nos back then, but even as badly as things usually went out there, I never really felt more comfortable at those ages than I did on a baseball field, with a baseball team.

(It certainly wasn’t with The Girl In My Science Class. When she was around, I’m not sure I could even answer those yes-or-nos.)

So I just hope I treated them with appropriate restraint and respect, as uncreepily as possible, while trying frantically to fill those column inches. And it felt frantic, sometimes. But it was baseball.


And with that — well, with this link to our man Ken Dixon’s coverage of The Boys’ trip to the state Capitol, featuring the amazing Eddie Kochiss — I think I’m on vacation. Although I’m not going anywhere, so if something crazy happens, leave me out of it I’ll probably be around. Treat Thread Last as an open one, not that anything has stopped you before.

Oh, and I owe you those St. John’s stories. Sometime soon.

Michael Fornabaio