I can’t throw anymore.
My baseball career was strictly neighborhood stuff in Brooklyn, no big deal. I wasn’t anything great, believe me — grounders ate me alive and I buckled at fastballs — but, for a plump boy not destined for a spot on any future Dodgers roster, I had an arm.
“Some gun,” a pal once called out when I was catching flies and firing a scuffed-up ball back to the batter. “Whoosh.”
In high school and college, I put glove and bat away but, later, when fatherhood happened, played enough catch with the kids — two boys, two girls — to set an East Coast record. I threw pop-ups twice the height of the tree in our front yard and led after-dinner tutorials at the local park.
“Come on, zing it in here,” I’d call out. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Football season, we were in shotgun formation on our quiet Blue Point street. The kids ran pass patterns. I launched bullets and bombs.
In memory’s trove of YouTube favorites is a slow-motion video of our oldest kid, skinny at the time and with a sense of determination that continues today, running and running, back to me.
“Keep going,” I yelled.
Into flight went the pigskin.
I can still see the arc, the apogee, the descent, my boy, maybe 10 or 11, streaking past suburban lawns, the ball in pursuit. At the last moment, the little fellow turned to get his bearings and reached out. As if re-entering from orbit, the ball arrived. He gathered it in. I cheered. “Yes!” Oh, mighty throw and wondrous catch. Oh, priceless recollection. Oh, settle down.
Yes, we Hollywood-ize our stories. Small accomplishments gain glory that reality might discount. But there is something sweet even in the make-believe, don’t you think — grasping for a moment’s perfection the way my little boy reached for the ball? Sometimes there are completions. More often, not.
In my 50s and 60s, family catches continued, if less frequently. I keep a glove and ball in the car and a pint-size football, too. Anybody wants to toss it around, I’m game.
This is a great use for grandchildren, I find.
Motioning outside, I’ll say, “How about it? Little catch?”
Up to a certain age, children will agree eagerly, even if only to duck homework or the steamed spinach facing them at dinnertime.
My grandson Jack is always ready. Here is a young fellow with an admirable set of priorities who knows few things in life are more important than baseball and sets his agenda accordingly.
“Sure,” Jack will say, grabbing his glove.
In recent years, I’ve had to toss the ball only softly. The heat was gone. Those long, straight throws were from another time, like the appetite for an entire pizza or driving all night to see Arlo Guthrie at a folk festival somewhere.
But, at 75, I’ve entered a new phase — to be specific, these days I can barely wing it at all.
A while back, Jack and I were outside. We started close and moved apart. I was able to reach him with lazy throws — lollipops, as ballplayers say. At some point, the ball skipped under my glove, but now the distance was daunting for a player in his senior season — longer than from home to first. I threw it anyway.
Wow, did that hurt.
I placed myself on injured reserve for a month and the achiness went away. Then my younger son — in his late 40s, holy cow — drove out from Queens.
It’s become a summer ritual for us to head to the softball field, gloves on the back seat of the car.
I tried warming up but, even at close range, could hardly reach him. What seemed like half my throws were in the dirt.
“It’s all right, Dad,” he said. “You’re doing great, no kidding.”
A few weeks later we were at Citi Field for an afternoon Mets game.
As always, I marveled at the big leaguers — slender men with quick bats and strong arms. Their throws are heroic — from deep center to third base on one hop, from the catcher to second base in a blur. I rubbed my shoulder and remembered.
After the game, a man with a saxophone played outside the ballpark. I dropped a dollar in his pail and gave the guy a smile. The musician nodded and stopped for a moment.
“Thanks, Pops,” he said, before picking up the tune.
“Sure enough,” I replied. Sure enough.