When I was 10 years old, baseball was my life. When I wasn’t playing some form of it with my youthful contemporaries, I was thinking about it, talking about it or arguing about it with friends, family or strangers too kind and/or slow to escape from a babbling, sports- obsessed pre-adolescent.

However playing baseball all the time didn’t necessarily mean excelling at it. During a recent spring cleaning, I came across a pair of ancient trophies I recognized instantly as the only two such awards I ever received.

Ironically, I did very little to earn either of those dusty keepsakes.

I got the first one as a third-grader, in my initial season of organized baseball. I was on the Hawks, our community’s Little League kingpins. We steamrolled every other team because we had three large, athletic, scary 12-year-olds who could out-hit, out-pitch and out-run just about every other kid in town.

As an undersized first-year player, my contributions consisted of shouting shrill encouragement to teammates, chasing foul balls, coaching first base and warming up pitchers between innings.

The only times I actually played was when our opponents were the Lions, a team so inept that no amount of harm the other two Hawks 9-year-olds and I could do during the first half of the game was so horrific that it couldn’t be undone by the studs alongside us in the starting lineup, or by the far more competent kids who took our places at the start of the fourth inning.

Nearly two decades later, I collected my second athletic memento.

The slow-pitch softball team I was playing for had gotten off to a promising start when, in midseason, I was offered a terrific job in my chosen field of endeavor. The only drawback: Accepting it involved moving 4,000 miles away, and doing so within a week’s time.

I felt guilty about abandoning my teammates, even though they all professed to be far more thrilled about my getting a long-sought-after opportunity than disappointed about losing their leadoff hitter and left-centerfielder.

I shouldn’t have worried. The team, which had triumphed in seven of ten games with me in the lineup, won 21 of 22 after my departure, storming to the league title.

I played on lots of other teams during my extended boyhood, but all my teammates and I got for engaging in healthy exercise while being members of numerous non-winning squads were a whole lot of great memories of having fun with our friends.

Which, in retrospect, was infinitely more meaningful than any tangible award. Because unlike 4-inch metallic batters posing atop tiny slabs of faux marble, treasured recollections can become more vivid with time.

And they don’t require dusting off every three decades or so.


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