In the season of the pandemic we have been trying to clean our garage. It seems that I have been doing this for months. My cleanup has had starts and stops depending on my level of motivation. We have accumulated lots of things in our years living in our current house. There is quite a bit of stuff to go through and to decide what to throw out or what to give to Goodwill.
In this effort to clean up, I found one of my more treasured items, my first baseball glove. For a kid growing up in the ’60s playing and watching baseball, getting my own glove was a rite of passage. To put it bluntly, baseball and sports were the center of my universe. Girls would of course come later.
My family was not wealthy. After all, my dad and mom owned a laundry and most of our income went to the basics — food, clothing, and shelter. We had very few toys. Most of the toys that we had were given to us by family friends and relatives.
We made some of our toys ourselves. We used to make bats out of the cardboard we used to fold the shirts. We rolled up the cardboard and taped it. We made balls out stuffed paper bags that we tied with string.
My brother Ted and sister Helen would play baseball inside the laundry during our down time, driving our parents crazy. We also made toy guns out of cardboard with holsters and played war or cowboys and Indians. (Both not PC today!)
Since I could not afford to buy a glove, my older brother Benny loaned me his 1950s glove. It had a very small pocket. It was also a glove for a right-hander and I am left-handed. So whenever I caught a ball in the outfield with his glove, I had to take the glove off my left hand so I could throw the ball back to the infield. I longed for a real left-handed glove.
Part of the story of this glove is related to my academics. I was never a very good student, just average. As I entered the 7th grade, to motivate me, my brother Benny said if I could get a B average on my report card he would buy me a left-handed glove. I worked hard and gave it my best effort and did get that B average.
He took me to JC Penney to choose a glove. I didn’t want him to spend too much money so I selected an off brand. If I remember correctly, it was about 6 or 7 dollars, which was still a lot of money in 1966. More importantly, I felt I had earned the glove with good grades.
The glove was not the best glove, but I loved it despite its flaws. The glove lacked padding. If I caught the ball wrong, it felt like I caught a stone. The funny part was I could not show that my hand felt like it was about to fall off. Like our personal relationships with my fellow man and woman, I tolerated the flaws of my glove.
My glove has in it a lot of memories of both my failures and triumphs on the sandlots of San Francisco. We tried to play like our heroes. I was Willie McCovey stretching for low throws on first base or catching a pop-up. When I made a running catch in the outfield I did my best imitation of Willie Mays. (Sorry, Dodger fans!)
My glove is symbolic of another time. A time of innocence when the most important thing was whether you got a hit in a game or caught the line drive hit at you. After the game we would stop at the corner grocery store for a Coke and a bag of chips and do a recap of our games for the day.
It was a time to hang out with your buddies and talk sports, whether it was the San Francisco Giants, 49ers, or the Warriors. I would hang my glove on my bat as I walked home.
I realize like most older folks we look at the past with rose-colored glasses. I am sure we had difficulties growing into adulthood but for those of my generation it was “The Wonder Years.”
It was a time of no adult responsibilities. I could leave in the morning and the only requirement was that I return home in the evening in time for dinner. The playground was my office and I didn’t have any deadlines.
My main ambition during those years was to be a left-handed Giants relief pitcher like Masanori Murakami, who was the first Japanese player from Japan to play in the major leagues. Although I would never pitch for the Giants due to my lack of natural talent, my first glove and playing baseball is one of my fondest memories of childhood.
Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.