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The boy of summer

I DON'T look forward to the next few months, confined as I must be to an air-conditioned office, with my best friend a personal computer. I love the outdoors and warm weather -- in fact, the hotter the better. There's nothing wrong with my body thermostat; it's just that summer brings back such fond memories of my boyhood. For every winter had seemed one of discontent for a 10- or 11-year-old kid. That Midwestern weather put a stop to a lot of outdoor activity.

Warm days, however, brought a new lease on life -- called baseball. In fact, during the cold winter we talked baseball, kept in shape by doing our calisthenics, and made our gloves supple by rubbing them with a little oil each day. Also, we used to hunker down in a warm corner of Stush's basement and play baseball cards and games.

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When the cold eased enough that we didn't have to bundle up in a mass of clothing, we cleared the field. Then came lining the field, a task made easy by the fact that every home had a plentiful supply of lime in those days.

Next we pooled our allowance to buy critical equipment: two Louisville Sluggers and two Reach baseballs. We had no uniforms, but we used the time between winter's ebb and spring to decide on a somewhat common outfit. We also mimicked the big-leaguers by taking a few promotional pictures with the Brownie camera that Chistle got one Christmas.

Finally came the actual hitting and fielding. Chistle caught, Moore pitched, Bittingle was on first, Wiggie on second, Stush on third, and I played short. Augie, Sonny, and Richie made up the outfield. All summer long we played other teams in town, and there were few complaints, least of all about the heat. Our most valued possessions were our batting and fielding averages.

In those days the championship game was highlighted by two unchanging facts of life. Each side had a fireballer, and the winning team was the one garnering the most walks, bunts, or both. No way did anyone ever hit the fireballer. I remember one year I fouled a ball off the opposing fireballer: I was held in awe for the better part of the off-season. And I'll never forget the championship game -- the last before my family moved from the area -- when I walked to bring in the winning run.

Of course, I would still love to spend my summer days shagging baseballs with the rest of the boys, but three years ago the graduate students at the institution where I teach stopped asking me to play softball on Sunday afternoons. The following year my wife benched me permanently, contending that my hitting practice balls to the kids on the street made me look too exhausted at day's end.

But that's all right. I still have my old glove and the Reach baseball signed by all the team members when I left. And I have so many memories that bud in the spring and bloom in the summer sun -- memories that bring out the boy in me.

Thomas V. DiBacco, a .264 hitter in 1948, is a historian at the American University.


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