Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Mud Balls and Baseball Gloves

The title of this post sounds a bit odd, and I realize this, but at the end it will all make sense. Growing up, my mother played on a traveling softball team. Their practice field was in a housing complex in our suburban town, and also near one of her teammate's homes. My mom would throw my brother and I in the car, drive over to her teammates house (who also had a girl my age and a boy my brothers age). For the life of me, I cannot remember this lady's name. I think it was Cheryl, but I'm not 100% sure. Anyways, we would pile into her "woody" station wagon and drive for three minutes or so and be at the field. One day while the ladies were practicing, we found a gigantic mud pile. Of course, four young kids are going to get into mischief. I began to throw mud balls on the ground near the parking lot. My memory is a bit foggy on who suggested it, but we got this fantastic idea to throw these mud balls all over "Cheryl's" station wagon. After the practice ended, my mom and "Cheryl" saw the damage that was done. They also were not thrilled with the fact we were covered head to toe in mud. 

When we arrived at "Cheryl's" house, my mom asked if she could wash us off and change into some of her son's clothes for the drive home. Of course, Cheryl obliged and after a quick wipe down, my brother and I found ourselves being yelled at for what seemed like a lifetime. Cheryl also was laying it on pretty thick with her kids in the basement. After a few minutes of silence, Cheryl came upstairs with her kids and she and my mom sat down at their dining room table and discussed the lineup for the next game, and we were given the "Ok" to go down to the basement to play with Cheryl's kids. This meant that my mom was done yelling at us, and she would leave the punishment up to my dad once he was home from one of his trips for work. I do remember him being away when this happened and knew my brother and I were in deep crap when he got home.

My brother and I headed to the basement to see what kind of toys we could play with. Once in the basement, I remember immediately spotting a large box of baseball cards in the corner. It was a weird box and in my collecting days I still have never seen a box like it for storing cards. It was like a 5,200-count box top and all the cards were lined up just like they are in a 5,200-count box. The first card that was staring me down was a 1980 Topps card of Jeff Leonard. This was 1988, and my collecting days had just started and the oldest card I had ever seen as a 6-year-old was a bunch of 1982 Donruss cards that a neighbor had given packs out during the Halloween of 1987. The only card I can remember out of those 1982 Donruss cards was a Steve Henderson card. He had his white Cubs jersey on and I took a red crayon and colored in his white jersey. I guess I thought it would be more appealing. Ok, I got sidetracked. I'm sorry.  I asked Cheryl's son if I could have the Jeff Leonard card and he said "Sure, it's yours!". That card had alleviated any fear I had of my dad's punishment that would come in a few days. It definitely softened the blow. 

Now where does the baseball glove come into this story? Well, I had just finished up year two of t-ball in 1988, and I decided that baseball was for me. However, I couldn't catch yet and I was eager to learn. My mom would try to play catch with me in the back yard, but I could sense her frustration time after time when she threw the ball at me, and I would duck away from it in fear. I heard a conversation my mom and dad had one day where she was asking him to go out and purchase a baseball glove so he could teach me to catch. The very next day, we were on our way to the sporting goods store and my dad picked up this almost reddish-brown glove with a red logo, white letters that read Regent. I hadn't seen a Regent glove before, but if that is the one my dad wanted, then cool. After a few days of practicing with me, I eventually picked up catching the ball! It was a very momentous time for me in my life. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. My dad was so proud, he thew his glove in the air and gave me a hug. I picked his glove up off the ground and put my hand in it and looked at the palm. HOLY CRAP! I had remembered the facsimile autograph of the player who signed it.....none other than Jeffrey Leonard!

Fast forward to May of this year. My son just started t-ball and I was looking for my old t-ball baseballs. My dad was always shuffling these Rubbermaid tubs that my parents stored literally everything in. They would go from garage rafters, then to garage storage shelves, to garage floor and the cycle would complete itself all over again. I knew our old sports equipment was in one of these tubs, I just had to find the right one. After searching a few of them, I eventually found the right tub. I sifted through old baseball gloves, batting helmets, softballs, baseballs, elbow pads, bike helmets, and then I saw it. The freaking Jeffrey Leonard glove. It made me sit down on the hard cement floor of my parent's garage to stare at it for a few minutes. I put the glove on and squeezed a ball in it a few times. It felt stiff and the color had faded away, but it still existed. That night, I scoured box after box to see if I still had that 1980 Jeff Leonard card. I couldn't find it. I figured the last shot I had at finding it would be in my old closet in the room that used to be my bedroom at my parents' house. I looked in the closet and found a box of junk from my childhood. In this box, there was a small box that had some photos of me as a vampire in 3rd grade for Halloween, a photo of my grandma and I making cookies and a photo of my brother and I playing soccer, a shark's tooth, a newspaper clipping of me having breakfast with my grandmother and great grandmother and... you guessed it, a 1980 Topps Jeff Leonard card. It was in a penny sleeve and still in pretty decent shape. 

Jeff Leonard (or Jeffrey as he went by after the 1986 season), had a small part in my life during one of the weirdest days of my life and also one of the best memories I had as a 6-year-old. He definitely deserved this post. Thank you for reading!