I have few memories of personal athletic heroism mainly because I was a good player and not a great one. Between fifth grade softball, intramural games, pick-up ball, and city leagues, I don’t think there are more than a dozen circumstances when I made a last second basket or smacked a game-winning hit. Given the venues, I’m not sure I ever achieved this in front of a crowd of more than one hundred fans.
And of the dozens of teams I played on, there have only been three championships, countless runner-ups, and scores of ho-hum seasons. I have a modest collection of second place trophies that for many years sat on an unseen shelf in an unused basement. I’ve never known what to do with them, thinking that they might be more useful as bird feeders. Far more useful as a means of displaying modest prowess I have quite a few award t-shirts, some commemorative, and others announcing an accomplishment. I still have my twelfth grade intra-mural softball championship t-shirt which I won well over forty years ago. It no longer comes close to fitting me (I believe seeing my then teenage daughter once wearing it), and it now sits on a shelf next to my old teddy bear. I have several well worn t-shirts from three on three basketball leagues, two championships and lots of runner ups (we only once managed to beat Dave Goldsmith’s team).
Three on three basketball is my most skillful game as I have an accurate, sometimes deadly, very long range three point shot, and on a good passing team I can score a lot of points very quickly, especially when there’s a good big man who the defense is worried about. Still, a lemon yellow shirt that reads Keene Family Y 3 on 3 champions, 1982, wasn’t very imposing. Yet I wore it with great pride, both as a measure of my affiliation with basketball, my pleasure at living in southwest New Hampshire, and as a tangible link to childhood dreams of glory.
These jerseys represent more than nostalgia, conviviality, and community, all qualities potentially intrinsic to memorabilia. More importantly, and transcending and incorporating these qualities, is how they bind me to a place that I love, engaged in one of my favorite things to do. My sense of place and my territorial affiliations are linked to the teams I play on and the teams I route for.
I knew I belonged to the Monadnock Region of southwest New Hampshire when I was playing softball on a field in Troy, NH, early in May, with snow on the hillsides, and the temperature for our late night D league game was 39 degrees. Our Antioch New England Graduate School team (made up of a few Antioch folks but many community members) was playing a road game against a blue collar team. Antioch professors, staff, and their friends never really gained respect in Keene until they proved they could play softball. I stood on the field, knees crouched, playing second base, looking up at the night sky, hoping a ground ball would be hit my way. The ambiance of the game—professors competing against mill workers—the respect for sportsmanship, our common endurance, the respect we generated just by playing ball in these wintry conditions, generated all kinds of unprintable, yet oddly friendly banter. These are my lasting memories, far surpassing the actual game result. I have no idea who won the game or how I performed. Rather I recall the settings, the feelings, and the place. I could spend the next few pages providing you with vivid descriptions of a dozen softball fields scattered around the city of Keene and its environs, writing about the weather conditions, the light of the sky, the vegetation, but I can remember few game scores, who won or lost the games, or how many hits I might have gotten. I remember playing a double header against Hubbard Farms in Walpole, NH, on a beautiful grassy field on a mild but cloudy July day. For some reason I played the outfield that day. The grass was covered with thick white clover. It looked like a green and white sea. The air was fragrant and the valley was calm. I know we played two great games but I can’t tell you who won.
What I am suggesting is that for me, and I think for others too, the place as the field of play is as important as the game itself. At the time of play I’m fully engaged in the game situation and potential outcome (I really like to win). I am very attentive to batting orders, counts, the condition of the field, who’s fast and who’s slow, and all the things that an aware ballplayer should be observing. Most good and heady players can describe all of these situations to you in detail, as complex as they might be. As a player you must respond to those conditions if you are going to accomplish your objective—pitching, hitting, or catching the ball. However, many years later, I can only provide details of absolutely seminal game moments, but I can fully describe the setting in which I played. It was the intense focus on the game that allowed me to observe the landscape in such vivid detail. It was the field of play that planted itself in my memory.