REDISCOVERING MY DREAM

REDISCOVERING MY DREAM

From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Rediscovering My Dream

Isn’t it funny how the passage of time can make you forget to tingle? Years and the worries of adulthood can take a dream come true and turn it into some kind of cruel practical joke. Be careful what you wish for, little guy; it may one day be fixed around your neck, squeezing tighter and tighter each day.

These thoughts were not fully formed as I sputtered down the Deegan Expressway on May 17, 1998, a bright, beautiful Sunday morning that was lost on me. But they were there in the back of my mind. I was running late as usual, and, thanks to the obligatory large Dunkin Donuts coffee, the tardiness and the stop-and-go traffic were affecting me, as per usual.

And just where was I going? To another baseball game. Big whoop.

The Yankees were playing the Twins that day, a nothing game. The Hartford Courant’s main man on the Yankees, Jack O’Connell, took the day off and I was asked to cover. I never knew how to say no to an assignment, even when it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. My regular assignment at that point was the football Giants and this, May, was supposed to be my time off. My Sunday off.

But faced with the choice of staying home and staring at the walls of my condo until I couldn’t take anymore, or going to, sigh, another ball game—well, I took the lesser of two tortures. I did maybe twenty games a year. I could see it now: ball one, ball two, strike one, ball three. By the third inning, I’d be wondering why I didn’t have a life like everyone else. Just what had I DONE to myself? Four hours of drudgery, followed by a flood of locker-room clichés and then the one part of this job I still loved, trying to make it interesting in roughly eight hundred words.

I made it to the stadium, convinced the parking lot attendants that, yes, I belonged in Jack’s space, and got into the stadium just in time for manager Joe Torre’s pregame speech. Nothing new was offered.

Then a horrible breakfast of cold, powdery eggs and up to the press box. For a minute, as always on bright Sundays, I stopped to look out at the stadium. You know, it’s still a beautiful place, I thought. Still, those 1923-vintage outer walls have the ability to block out all the ugliness just outside and protect the pristine, pastoral setting within. The sun has the place looking wonderful, just as it did the first time I saw it.

That would have been 1972, Old Timer’s Day, when the days I went to Yankee Stadium were the biggest days of the year. We didn’t have a car and Dad didn’t drive, so it meant a long, hot ride in old, fetid passenger cars bequeathed by the late New Haven railroad, and a hot, smelly subway ride. All of which was worth it for the moment the No. 4 train emerged from its tunnel, just on the Bronx side of the river where it becomes an elevated train. The train breaks out into daylight and the first sight is the stadium, bigger than life. God, that was great. Where did that sensation go? In 1976, sitting out in left field for the first game in the refurbished stadium, another Yankees–Twins game, I looked up at the press box and decided those guys have the best job in the world.

So then and there, I chose this life, and now from the press box I was looking out at the left-field grandstand. I was through the looking glass.

First pitch, sentiments disappear. This isn’t fun anymore. When you grow up, it’s not supposed to be fun. Growing up really sucks, by the way.

I’m already thinking about Yankees-win angles. They’re in first place and the economic climate of the game has made it impossible for the Twins to field a major-league line-up. Never heard of half the guys playing. In 1972, I could have told you every team’s line-up, bench and Class-A hopefuls. But that was so long ago, so many traffic jams, large coffees (cream, no sugar) and lost loves ago. Now, I just wanted to know the bare minimum. Who’s pitching for the Yankees today? Oh, yeah, David Wells.

So, yes, David Wells is going to play the hero in this feel-good story. Can you beat that? May 17, 1998. Is that enough of a hint for you? The first seven Twins batters went down easy. So easy. Sooooo easy. I said, to no one in particular, “This guy’s gonna pitch a perfect game.”

I said it, but I didn’t believe it. Would you? But the innings rolled by, and Wells retired every batter. The Yankees put four runs on the board, and Wells kept mowing them down. In the seventh, when he went 3–1 on Paul Molitor, you got worried. He came back to strike him out.

Meanwhile, something was happening. I was covering a PERFECT GAME. Thousands and thousands of games had been played, and there had only been fifteen perfect games. I was going to cover one, and more important, I WANTED to see it. This was important to me again. Like it was 1978 again and the Yankees had to beat the Red Sox, just HAD to. The fat, bald stooge on the mound had to do this, he was going to do it.

Ninth inning, and it was easy. The last batter flied to right. This was a day game, no deadline pressure, and I stayed in the locker room to hear everything I could about what happened, stayed until there were only a handful of writers left and Wells was opening the champagne George Steinbrenner had sent. “This is something nobody can ever take away from me,” Wells said.

I agreed.

My story did not win a Pulitzer Prize, although, if I do say so myself, it came out pretty good. But that wasn’t the point. For the first time in a long time, I thought, as I drove home, This life I chose isn’t all that bad. My dream had been to cover baseball, live with a team, preferably the Yankees because, well, they were the Yankees. I had given up. Wouldn’t have wanted to live that lifestyle for a million bucks a year, I always thought. But now, the dream was chasing me and I was asking myself, Just what I was so afraid of?

A year later, I was offered the chance to leave football and do the Yankees full time. I said yes.

Nearly three years later, I am making plans for my second spring training and I am looking forward to it. Can’t WAIT. The problems still exist. No wife, no girlfriend. Still trying to lose weight. Pushing forty. Everyone has these problems, right?

But not everyone can say they wanted to do something when they were fourteen, something only a handful of people get to do, and end up doing it. A Subway Series HAPPENED, and I was in the park for every pitch. The dreams are coming true so fast, I can’t keep up anymore.

I don’t know what the lesson is from all this. Positive thinking? Sure. Dwell on the successes of life instead of the failures and the shortcomings, since we all have plenty of both? Maybe. Or maybe it’s this:

Baseball, for all its faults, can be counted on to rise and set like the sun. I hate to differ with Bart Giammatti, but it wasn’t really designed to break our hearts, or leave us to face the fall and winter alone. It remains to heal and rejuvenate, whenever one is ready to open up again and let it back inside.

Dom A more

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