By Gary Lloyd
Before my YouTube channel included interviews with Alabama football stars, scenes from tornado-ravaged cities and city council meetings, and seldom-watched book promotions, there was a lone video.
It sat alone in cyberspace for just over two years, and I was happy to keep it that way. Until now. I realized a life theme recently, and I can trace it back to this one video, which was just an audio recording playing over one grainy photo for two minutes and twenty-one seconds.
I made the video, and my YouTube channel, in 2009, as college graduation approached. It was for a digital media class at the University of Alabama, and the assignment called for the development of an audio commentary to use in a future career portfolio.
I chose to talk about youth baseball in my hometown of Trussville, Alabama. Did my topic of choice prove I could write naturally in the inverted pyramid style? No. Did it show off my interviewing skills? No chance. Did it state why I believed I would be the right hire at a news organization? Of course not.
So, why did I choose it?
Because the memories, the scenes in my mind from childhood, remained stuck like motorists in Highway 280 traffic. Simply, I could describe it.
My audio commentary touched on the first baseball field my friends and I ever played on, and how its pebble-riddled infield tore your pants and scraped your elbows. I talked about the mugginess beside the Cahaba River, and how you waved your glove more at the mosquitoes than fly balls. I talked about teammates and their baseball abilities, even at age five, and my parents helping us in the outfield. I remember my brother, a baby at the time, sleeping in a stroller while my grandparents and great uncle sat with him. I remembered the chalkiness of the suckers we received after wins and losses, and how I talked Atlanta Braves baseball with my paternal grandmother often. Baseball, like it was for most boys, was always on my mind, and for good reason.
In 1994, when I was seven, the Trussville Sports Complex was completed. In the first phase of construction, four soccer fields, five baseball fields and one youth football field were built. The complex’s four walking and riding trails were constructed as well in 1994. Today, the complex is home to two softball fields, nine baseball fields, four soccer fields, a Frisbee disc golf course, one youth football field and the Trussville Racquet Club, which features six clay courts and six hard courts.
We were some of the first kids to play there, and it was awesome. It was as if the city had built a baseball complex just for us. I remember playing on a Blue Jays team that rarely lost and a Yankees team that barely won any games. I played for the Devil Rays, Mariners, Cardinals, White Sox, and more as a kid, and every year when we received our jerseys it felt like the call to the big leagues.
We kicked off each season with a parade, and we hurled Jolly Ranchers and Dum-Dums from the beds of pickup trucks. We spent the spring and fall at the park, playing our games but staying for others, during which we begged for two dollars to buy a basket of cheese fries or nachos from the concession stand. When seasons ended, we counted the days until the grass was green again.
Those days flew by. Maybe not then, but you realize it now. We must have played a couple hundred games on those fields and witnessed every scenario baseball has to offer. Triple plays, inside-the-park home runs, hitting for the cycle, collecting five hits in as many at-bats. We saw it all. What a time. It was our own version of The Sandlot. Like the movie, kids grow up. Their baseball careers end as teenagers. They move away. But when they do, the baseball field – the sandlot – is still there.
Which brings me back to my audio commentary. I found myself in the days after college graduation sending job applications all over the country – to weekly newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, and New Jersey, to a college in California seeking a sports information associate. I don’t remember everywhere I sent applications. I remember the number surpassed one hundred. In the waiting time, to keep writing, I turned that audio commentary into a long story. That story became a chapter. That chapter became a book, which sat saved on my computer for years. It was mostly written – by hand, for some reason – in the large parking lot that overlooks the baseball complex. I don’t know why. Maybe I do my best thinking there. That book became Deep Green, which was published in early 2016.
In the years since the audio commentary, I have participated in a home run derby with friends on a field built for eleven-year-olds, taken a couple dogs on walks through the trails, and written a book that features one of the fields on its front and back covers.
I ate lunch on almost a weekly basis while I was a newspaper editor in the parking lot while listening to the JOX Roundtable, and I played home run derby on the eight-year-old field with my brother, David, before he moved to Atlanta.
This Christmas Eve, after spending the afternoon at my mother-in-law’s house, I cut through Riverbend Road to drive past the baseball complex. Then again, I always seem to do that. I brought my five books with me for some photos for 2019 social media campaigns, and I instead ended up walking around the complex in the cold.
I wanted photos of my books atop the greenway boulder just beyond the brush behind the tee-ball fields, and I was saddened to see yellow, blue, and pink graffiti all over it. I found a few clean spots for photos. I looked at the prices board above the concession stand windows and was thrilled to see that inflation has not caught up at the ballpark just yet. I walked up the forty-six steps that lead to the large parking lot, and I thought I was going to pass out before I reached the top. The only sound was the clink of the clip that holds the American flag on the pole behind one field.
Baseball, specifically youth baseball, is quite a time. It is a hard game that teaches you more than the 6-4-3 double play and when to put on the shift, but it is the most fun a boy can have. I believe that today, even in a time ruled by Fortnite and flying drones.
When I got home on Christmas Eve, my wife, Jessica, and I exchanged gifts. One of mine came from the store Baseballism, and it is a wall photo with eighty-eight words printed on it:
If baseball were easy, every hop would be great,
Every pitch would be served on a silver home plate,
I’d have perfect mechanics, not practice at all,
Always get my way when I dislike a call,
I’d only paint corners, hit homers with ease,
Pitch perfect games and steal home when I please,
I’d play every innings at the position I want,
Remove fans from the stands when they issue a taunt,
If baseball were easy, I’d play without strife,
But baseball’s not easy…
Baseball’s like life.”