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Memories of the Baseball Past

A song can take a person back in time. The journey into the depths of the mind can be as short as to the car ride last week or as far back to the devastating moment of the end of a relationship. Some even trigger memories from a first concert or the exact place you were at when you first connected to a now favorite song.

And sometimes, that song is Puff Daddy's Can't Nobody Hold Me Down.

For no discernible reason, the song is on an iPod. The lyrics set forth a chain of events in the mind that go back twenty years.  It's early March of 1997 and this was one of the many songs blaring from the boom box at the back of the bus. The song was one of many that found its way into the rotation for that season's baseball team. Traveling by bus for sometimes upwards of nine hours, a lot of activities were needed to pass the time. Listening to music as a group helped build camaraderie, if only for a few minutes.

The desert of Nevada, a vast wasteland of sagebrush, mountains, and the occasional prison camp, offered very little in the ways of scenery. It became even less enticing considering many of us had been making these trips for four years.

Such was the life of an athlete in rural Nevada.

Outside of music, there was plenty of time for other activities. Sleep was near the top of the list, most notably after a double-header and a trip home done under the cover of night. The amount of sleep was dependent on the outcome of the day's games (or weekend), with a mood ranging from jovial to downright pissed off.

Journeying further into the recesses of the mind, the flood gates of memories of that season open up even more.  There were card games, quarters and dollar bills exchanging hands quicker than the Flash running to a sale on tights. Poker and blackjack were out. In was "Guts", a game where Aces, Pairs, and the occasional bluff dominated. There was a game involving '31'. Red dog? The barrel full of alcohol consumed in the intervening years has left sliver sized holes in the memory.

The 1997 season brought forth multiple games played in the snow. It was the risk of playing early March baseball in Northern Nevada and southwestern Idaho. Wind chills would often drop game time temperatures this time of year to below thirty. The sting on your hands from placing bat to ball could linger for innings and ear muffs might be spotted on the ears of a player or two.

The sound of cleats on the dugout cement. The metal ting of the bat to ball. The chatter echoing around the infield, carrying to the outfielders, where eventually it was lost to the weeds behind the outfield fence. Tiny moments of time re-entering the present day all thanks to a song. A song that may not seem so great in the present day, yet one that permits a stroll down memory lane to a time when the future was at our fingertips.

A promising senior season for a talent laden team ran into its fair share of hiccups. Slumps, late-inning defeats, and suspensions sent the team into the division playoffs as the fourth seed. The top three from the divisional round would advance to state that year. A matchup with the number one seed in the first round put our team behind the proverbial eight ball.

Another long bus ride was on the agenda, this time to the home of the regular season division champions and number one seed. All to face a team with the top pitcher in the north, a young man with a decent fastball and a devastating curveball. One loss would send us into the losers bracket and one game closer to ending our season early.

Two previous losses to this team in the regular season, by a combined three runs and both in the final inning, hung over our heads. Disciplinary action had sidelined our top pitchers from those losses. The senior left-hander, the man with the magic knuckleball and Tom Glavine changeup took the hill on that Friday afternoon. The task at hand was clear and simple: Win and advance to state.

An early lead by our team gave way to a 4-4 tie after a monster home run. Squandered chances left the game tied as we went to the top of the seventh. With a runner on second, a purely singles hitter, a 150 pound first baseman, slapped an 0-2 pitch for a double to left-center. A walk and another double later, we held a 7-4 lead.

In what seemed no time at all, the lead in the bottom of the inning had narrowed to 7-6. The bases were loaded. There were two outs. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three, a borderline call. Nerves were frayed. Anticipation ran high on both sides. Two strikes went by. The left-hander reared back, digging deep to fire one last fastball. The aim was true and wobbly legs gave way to pure elation.

The season might have ended a week later with two losses in state, but the memories of those years remain. The long road trips. The bickering. The gambling debt. The laughs. The camping trips. The games. Twenty years later, even with the natural progression of life, the marriages and the deaths, the injuries and the mistakes, a team is always that. Even if the communication is limited to smaller circles, friends reaching out to friends or following their life on social media, memories remain. On the field and off.


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