Baseball nirvana and the Walk of Life

Eight baseball playoff games today, all on TV. Eight games, 16 teams! It bears noting: Prior to 1969, the team with the best record in the American League would meet the team with the best record in the National League in the World Series. There were no playoffs, just the World Series. Two teams.

I’m not sure how I feel about the watering down of October baseball, especially when two of the fortunate 16 lost more games than they won in this shortened season, but October baseball always inspired my friends and I to get outside for a game of punchball, stickball, hardball or softball when I was growing up in the East Village. Nothing wrong with that.

Prior to today’s festivities, I ran an errand and came across a spacious, empty concrete lot that had some weeds and not much else. “The Walk of Life” by Dire Straits was playing on the radio when my mind drifted back to a long ago era and I was surprised to find that something in my chest stirred. I won’t say my heart skipped a beat, but there was something there. Definitely.

Let me explain:

When we were kids, the Spaldeen was king and we played ball wherever we could. Open space was always a rarity and green fields were practically nonexistent. We played in a small concrete “park” where you had to hit the ball past the second floor of the neighboring apartment building to be credited with a home run. We played in the courtyard of the public school, where outfielders played with their backs to the batter to turn “home runs” into outs when someone caught a would-be homer off the building and before it could hit the ground. Other times we played in the street, where home runs came down to how many sewer covers the ball traveled in the air.

I can’t overstate how much fun we would have had playing in an empty lot where we could hit the ball as far as we could and there was still enough concrete for us to grow into that lot. It’s like when I was coaching travel ball or umpiring and I would arrive at a pristine grass field, complete with reachable fences to signal home runs.

This feeling has come and gone through the years whenever I pass an open field. In my heart, I know that my days of punchball, stickball and the rest are over, but there’s still enough of the little kid in me that protests.

One more swing, I think, as Dire Straits winds down: “You do the walk, yeah, you do the walk of life. Hmm, you do the walk of life.”