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Jim Ozella: Oh, to be young again

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Posted: June 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.

With my 52nd birthday quickly approaching and the end of school branching into the summer season, I open my eyes while laying in bed and search my memories for days gone by. The sunlight through the window reminds me of my Midwestern bedroom as a kid, and the pictures stream through my mind's camera to the days of a more simple life.

There were no concerns of paying a mortgage or the rising cost of gas prices. No, the biggest problem would have been a flat tire on that old, gray bike with the newspaper baskets on the back wheel.

I had no interests in the civil rights movement of the 1960s or my sister dressing weird with the latest fads of the hippie movement.

No, I could smell the early morning bacon from the kitchen, the sunlight through the window breathed new life after a midnight thunderstorm - I was pulling on my jeans, T-shirt and the Adler's Pony League hat for another day in my Ingalls Park neighborhood.

The outside screen door clanged behind me as I rushed out to the garage to gather my tools for the day. My broken-in leather glove, the two Mickey Mantle woods and the three smashed paper cups used for drop-down bases were tossed into the newspaper baskets of my bike and I was off. I rode like the wind, the Pied Piper of the neighborhood, to stop at each of the kid's homes in the neighborhood to organize our morning game at the local cemetery.

Who could play? Who was on vacation? Who was awake and ready to make that five-block trip through the streets that did not employ street signs? Who was ready to ride?

My No. 1 stop would be the Morris household. I knew that the Morris family would be awake at 8 a.m., and that three players would come walking out the door as I turned into the driveway. The youngest brother, only in third grade, would sit in the newspaper baskets of my bike and would add weight to the trip down the hills and through the streets, but I really didn't care.

Phone calls were made, players were awakened and plans were to meet at the back corner of the cemetery by 8:30 a.m. No one owned a watch, but the first pitch would be tossed by 9 a.m. and our three-hour, extra innings, over-the-line game was stirring in my mind as we left the Morris home.

Off we flew through the neighborhood, aware of the angry German Shepherd at the top of 5th Avenue, which would pounce on unsuspecting bike riders with a vicious nip at their heels.

Down the hills of Hubbard Street we whizzed, three bikes being joined by two more, and two more as we curved to the tree-shrouded 3rd Avenue.

We parked our bikes in the woods that bordered the cemetery, climbed through the hole in the rusty crumpled fence and our group of 10 tossed our tools for the day on the grassy back fields of the uncharted cemetery.

We gathered at the southernmost tip of the cemetery, in the fields that had yet to be dug, underneath the big oak tree that we used as a backstop and we played baseball without a right field from 9 a.m. until the church bells signaled our lunch break.

Kids with different-colored hats from the local Pony League, some kids in patched-up jeans caused by the diving stop in yesterday's third inning, kids with allegiance to the Cubs, dove after ground balls, chased down fly balls, cracked gap shots to the farthest dirt road of the cemetery and we laughed.

We played the game with the desires of the seventh game of the World Series, and we tackled each other in between innings since we were all friends in that Ingalls Park neighborhood.

Arguments over whether that diving attempt was trapped or not often broke out, but I don't remember today if anyone really won the decision.

At the end of the morning, you bragged about your six hits, or you gloated about the Cardinals winning again over the Cubs, and you gathered up the tools and went your separate ways on your old, gray bike for a lunch of a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich back home.

Suddenly, the glint of the sunshine that had captured my attention was interrupted by the flight of a diving sparrow and the leap of the family Yorkshire Georgie onto the bed.

As my dog licked away with love at my face, I laughed at her intentions and now my thoughts visualized an upcoming cake with 52 candles burning brightly at my reality.

Oh, would I love to be a kid again.

Jim Ozella is a teacher at Hart High school and has been the school's varsity head baseball coach since 2000. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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