Baseball is as much a game of history as it is of skill. That's why I'm putting Thing 2’s recently retired first mitt in our safe deposit box.
Not that I think Cooperstown will come calling for it. The boy has a fairly live pitching arm for a third grader, but in our Wiffle ball matches he's already displaying serious issues hitting the hard inside breaking stuff and the 23-foot-high moon ball.
I want to lock up his mitt for a selfish reason: I wish I still had my first ball glove.
That long-gone relic had been given to me the spring I turned 7. My mom passed it to me from a friend whose own child had graduated from wanting to learn to turn the perfect double play to wanting to teach how to turn the perfect pirouette.
Yes, my first mitt was a hand-me-down from a ballet teacher.
Specifically, my sister's ballet teacher.
I had recently followed the light to the Church of Baseball so this was quite the baptismal gift. I accepted it without hesitation, too excited to worry that the cowhide might be a carrier of girl cooties. As a quick study of the game, I was prepared should anyone peer under the wrist strap to discover the name of my glove's original owner. I would say that if Shoeless Joe Jackson could hit .400 with a bat named "Black Betsy" then I could win a Gold Glove with a mitt called "Sheila W."
Most people wouldn't bother with my mitt anyway. The lining of the ring finger turned slightly inside out, causing borrowers to complain about the awkward fit. To me, though, it felt just fine.
We spent many hours together that year. Catching sky-scraping flies my dad threw until his shoulder ached. Snaring imaginary line drives as I lay on the playroom floor listening to Bob Murphy describe the play of another pitiful Mets team. Snagging tennis balls off the wall in my parent’s basement, which today still bears a strike zone I fashioned from masking tape.
Spring turned to summer, summer to autumn. The air turned crisp and others turned to football, but I stayed in my backyard, single-handedly catching all 27 outs to win another imaginary World Series until I was called in for lunch. I dropped my mitt next to the tree serving as the Green Monster and went inside.
That was the last I saw of it.
When I returned 20 or 30 minutes later, ball and glove had vanished.
Since we lived in a town where zoning and woods hamper most contact with civilization, my first thought that desperados, hell bent for third-hand leather, rode though and swiped it while I downed a grilled cheese didn't register. My parents concluded that a never-before- and never-since-seen dog wandered through and took it home as a chew toy. As I grew older, I started suspecting convenient scapegoating to counter an early request I made to Santa for a puppy.
Instead, for Christmas I received another glove and it was good, serving me through Tiny League and my first year in Little League. That one is gone, too, though I suspect it fell as a silent and unmourned victim during a zealous spring cleaning.
Also gone are the baseballs from my only two home runs in organized ball and the one from the night I went 5-for-5 with the game-winning RBI single in a 13-year-old All-Star game. Someone broke into my parents' house several years ago and stole those, along with some of my mom’s costume jewelry, and some other odd items of relatively little value.
Maybe it was not someone. Maybe it was something.
Maybe the same mysterious hellhound who visited our backyard years before made a return visit. Who knows? I just hope those old baseballs and memories eventually found their way to the comforting leather pocket of my old reliable Sheila W.