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  • When I was 9 or 10 years old, I signed up for Little League baseball in my small hometown. I undertook this course of action in spite of my lack of natural talent for the game for three reasons: all my buddies signed up, I liked watching baseball on TV and they gave you a free team t-shirt and cap. The town was too small to have real uniforms for us pee wees.

    My early years in the Little Show were unremarkable, except for my collection of free t-shirts and caps. In small-town Texas in the early 1960’s (and probably to this day), the teams were sponsored by local businesses and they emblazoned their company logos on the shirts and caps. In a span of three years, I added my limited baseball skills plus my grit and determination to the efforts of: Wilkerson’s Funeral Home (we ghoulishly called ourselves the “Diggers”), Norman Motors (a Ford car dealership), and Commercial National Bank (I’m not sure whether we called ourselves the “Tellers” or the “Fat Cats”).

    The best part of playing in an organized league like this was getting to use the team’s equipment. Every year, the sponsor of the team had to buy new stuff; the protective equipment for the catcher, a bunch of new baseballs and about a dozen or so new bats. I had a bat at home, but it was nothing like the ones the teams had! These bats had a facsimile of the autographs of current Major League Baseball players and for someone with my imagination this made all the difference in the world.

    Having the names of big league players burned into these wooden bats was a stroke of marketing and psychological genius. The names were magical: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Roberto Clemente, Nellie Fox, Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, Brooks Robinson, Stan (the Man) Musial, Hammerin' Hank Aaron. Every time I picked up a bat with the name of a player I had seen playing on TV, I became that player! The confidence was intoxicating.

    In my own baseball fantasy, I was as good as the player whose name was on the bat I was swinging. This had one, distinct advantage to a marginal player like me.

    If I had a string of bad luck, say striking out 23 times in a row, I knew that the player whose name was on the bat was simply having a little slump (hey, it happens…even to Roberto Clemente) and I changed bats and became someone else. Amazingly, when I became Willie Mays instead of Roger Maris or Stan Musial instead of Harmon Killebrew, I would be a changed man. I would hit them where they weren’t, bloop singles became double baggers and (in my mind) it was all due to the name on the bat.

    The summers of Maris and Mantle are long gone and the delusions of baseball grandeur a distant memory. That’s too bad. Now, as an ancient adult, there have been many times when I wished I could change bats and change my luck, at least for a day.

    Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Erlomo
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