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Gary Borders: Hope springs eternal in baseball season

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Baseball season has begun. Birds are chirping, pollen falling, and all is right with the world. Well, mainly.

I am filled with hope for the prospects of my beloved Boston Red Sox. I am always filled with hope in April. Get back to me in late August for an update. The past three seasons, the Red Sox bookended two seasons in the cellar with a World Series title. So I like our chances: cellar, champs, cellar and, this season, champs.

Growing up in New Hampshire, the start of baseball season meant it was time to break out the glove, bat and balls. We waited impatiently for the snow to finally melt on the cow pasture where we had set up a roughshod baseball diamond with burlap sacks as bases. There was no fence in the outfield, so a long ball could just keep on traveling — unless it got stuck in the mud that remained after the snow melted. The Courtemanche brothers, Peter Engel, my brother Scott, myself and even a few girls got together to play many afternoons after we walked home from Allenstown Elementary School.

My organized baseball career got off to a rough start. The town we grew up in was tiny, perhaps 1,000 people. A youth baseball league had been organized, but it was not affiliated with Little League or one of the other groups. Boys from six through 13 or so all played on the same team, because the player pool was so small.

At age 7 I talked my parents into letting me join a team. I was small for my age, so I probably looked like I was 5. I faithfully went to practice, spending most of the time standing around in the outfield, being allowed to occasionally take batting practice. When game time arrived, I sat on the bench in the dugout, waiting patiently for the coach to put me in right field. Game after game I waited in vain. On the bench I sat.

My dad quietly confronted the coach as the season wound to a close. As the final game went into the last inning, I heard my name called. I was going to pinch-hit!

I walked up to the plate, heart pounding, adjusting the helmet and gripping my Louisville Slugger so tight my knuckles turned white. I stepped into the box and awaited the first pitch — which plugged me right in the ribs. The umpire waved me to first base after asking if I was OK.

Was I OK? I was thrilled! I happily trotted down to first base and advanced to second on a base hit. And that is when the game and season ended with the final out.

I gave up organized baseball until we moved to Texas as I was about to turn 13. Here, I joined a Dixie League team and usually started, either in center or right field. I had grown some, but remained vertically challenged, a physical trait I used to advantage. I stood close to the plate when batting and often walked or got plunked. I was a decent base-stealer, which led to my greatest baseball moment. In a tie game, final inning, the third base coach gave me the sign. I stole home, sliding in under the tag to win the game. For the first time I was an athletic hero.

I played for three seasons, but then decided working to buy gas for my car and to chase girls were higher priorities. Besides, I was never going to even play for Longview High School, let alone the Red Sox.

Still, my love for baseball has never waned. April is a fine month to be a Red Sox fan. Like I said, check back in late August.

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