From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Impossible Dream

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only by night.

Edgar Allen Poe

In 1968 my daughter, Carrie, was in fifth grade, and her teacher was Mr. Kennedy, the most avid Cleveland Indian fan in Tucson, the winter home of the team. Every year Mr. Kennedy took a class field trip to see the Indians play, and this year’s game was sure to be special. Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants were coming to town.

Carrie was absolutely sure, as only a ten-year-old can be, that she would catch a fly ball—maybe even a home run—and get all the Cleveland players to sign it. “And I’m gonna get Willie’s autograph, too,” she announced.

How does a parent prepare a child for inevitable failure and disappointment without destroying the faith that spawned the dream? We tried. “That’d be wonderful, Honey, but well, there’ll be hundreds of kids, maybe even thousands, at Hi Corbett Field.”

“That’s okay,” she answered, totally undeterred.

But her dad and I knew that every kid there would be scrambling for autographs. Willie Mays would be swamped—maybe even surrounded by a police escort. We assured her that we’d be proud of her if she brought home a signature or two on her game program.

“Nope!” she told us. “Mr. Kennedy says the only sure way to get autographs is to catch a ball. The players will autograph that, but they mostly ignore the programs. So I’m going to catch a ball.”

We suggested that fly balls were traveling so fast that even grown-ups had trouble landing one. We told her there wouldn’t be many pop-ups and maybe no home runs, and such big stands spread out all over. She didn’t hesitate. “One of those flies will find me,” she said confidently. “Where’s Dad’s old mitt? I want to practice.”

So, in the three days we had before the big game, her dad and I took turns hitting easy pop-ups and shaking our heads. It was hopeless. Carrie had never been interested in baseball and had only played softball in the once-a-week P.E. classes at her elementary school. Every time a ball headed toward her, she held out the mitt and closed her eyes.

At least we could help her with that. I yelled at her to keep her eyes open. Her dad kept telling her, “Watch the ball. Eyes on the ball!”

On the day of the game, she stood poised at the door— a bright-eyed little girl with a Cleveland Indians cap on her curls and her dad’s old mitt in her hands. I wanted to hold her, to warn her about the real world, to tell her there would be no pop ball, no autographs—certainly not Willie Mays’! Instead, I said, “Give it your best shot, Honey!”

Her dad added, “Go, girl!”

All day I stewed and fretted, until around lunchtime when I decided worrying was useless. I couldn’t fly over the field and drop a baseball into my daughter’s hands. I could do nothing except . . . “Please, dear God,” I prayed, “give me the words to comfort her, to help her understand that wanting and getting don’t always go together, that there are many things in life that we can’t control.”

When she got off the school bus that afternoon, I could see she had had a wonderful time. She was a blur of leaping, bouncing motion. Obviously, the other kids were excited, too. They yelled and cheered and waved at Carrie, and she waved back before jumping into the car.

“I caught one, Mom!” she announced breathlessly. “Willie popped one up, and it came right at me, and I held up my mitt and kept my eyes open, and it just plopped right in!”

In her outstretched hands lay a baseball—a baseball covered with scrawled signatures. I took it tenderly and turned it slowly. Most of the autographs were unrecognizable, but there was one in large, bold letters that stood out from the rest—Willie Mays!

“How . . . ?” I began.

“It was the ball, Mom, like Mr. Kennedy said. All the kids were pushing and shoving, holding out their programs, but Willie stopped signing those. Then he looked up and saw me hanging over the fence, holding out the ball I caught. He walked right over and grinned at me. Mom, Willie Mays grinned at me and took my baseball and signed it right across the middle.”

Carrie still has that ball and the game program, keepsakes of a truly special time in her life. For me, there was an intangible lesson in my daughter’s unlikely catch—You gotta believe.

Peggy Spence

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