Every year around this time—Little League World Series time—I think about me and Little League. At my age, I retain pretty much only fluids, and so I don’t remember much about playing baseball or anything else about my youth. But one baseball memory is very specific, and unpleasant. It involves my massive head.
I wasn’t a good athlete as a youngster, but I loved sports, and none more than baseball. So like everybody did in the 1970s, I played Little League. I was a pretty big kid, and my September birthday combined with Little League’s August cutoff meant I was the only kid I knew who was still of Little League age into junior high school. So I was the largest lad on the Odd Fellows Raiders of the Kiwanis Eastern American League of the Falls Church (Va.) Little League.
As a large lad should, I hit a home run over the fence at Lee Graham Front Field very early in the season. I got the ball and wrote the date and location and who we were playing (the Phillies) and who was pitching (“Jack Maher”) and, cockily, “Home Run #1” on it. I hit it with a wooden bat from Worth that was technically illegal because it was a Babe Ruth League–approved bat not sanctioned by Little League. (I’d gotten it from my older next door neighbor, Johnny Price.) I only know this because when I was cleaning out my mom’s house after her death several years ago, I found the ball and bat. And I took them home and put them in my basement.
But, back to my youthful unathleticness: I stank the rest of the year, and there would never be a ball to write “Home Run #2” on.
Yet, hitting even one over-the-fence HR was a big enough thing (nobody else on the team had one that season as I recall) for me to be named to the all-star team at season’s end. Every Little League in the country names a team every year which then plays other all-star teams in local, state and regional tournaments, all trying to earn a spot in the international event, the Little League World Series in Williamsport. That’s something broadcast on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” every year, the Super Bowl of kiddie athletics. This was a big deal for me, even though in my head I knew making the select team didn’t mean I was better than other kids, just bigger.
But whatever joy that came with the honor got poleaxed at the first gathering of our league’s all-star team, which was also picture day. My bigness turned on me, like some auto-immune disease. The awfulness commenced as everybody was putting on the shiny red, white and blue uniforms to get ready to pose for the team shot. My head was too big to fit in any of the allegedly one-size-fits-all polyester ball caps that the league ordered for our team, even with their adjustable bands.
One-size-fits-everybody-but-me, more like.
The damn hats even fit our coaches–all grownups!–but not me. So somebody’s mother got sent out hat shopping for me while all my new and more talented teammates waited around and mumbled things like “diesel head,” which was a big dig in Falls Church back then. The cap-finding mission took so long that they went ahead and took the photo with me out of uniform. The lady eventually came back with this floppy off-brown and wool hat that was straight outta Charlie Brown and didn’t match at all with the red, white and blue uniforms or look anything like the white polyester caps everybody else wore.
As big as making the all-star team was, the events of that day were so traumatic I didn’t even buy the team photo. But I still live near where I grew up and have many of the same friends. And a few years ago, my buddy Louie, who was also on the all-star team and who I still hang out with and love dearly, brought his copy of the painful-to-me shot to a birthday party. And there I am standing in street clothes behind all the other kids in their bright white uniforms and bright white caps. At my age I can’t tell you with certainty if I ate breakfast yesterday, but I sure as hell remember what an outcast I felt like on Little League all-star picture day, waiting for that lady to come back with a wool hat.
As things turned out, the 1974 Falls Church Kiwanis Eastern American Little League all-stars didn’t make it to Williamsport. We didn’t even get out of Fairfax County, though I don’t remember who knocked us out.
I can, however, describe the hat I wore that postseason in good detail because I found it, too, during the clean-out of my boyhood home. I get why I kept the home run ball and bat from Little League. I can’t explain why I clung on to the hat. Perhaps I held on to that off-brown wool hat for the same reasons Monica Lewinsky held on to the blue dress. Awful memories, but, well, pretty good story.