We’re excavating our garage like it’s King Tut’s tomb.
Not finding golden statues or mummified cats, if that’s what you’re thinking. Yet. I found my first baseball mitt, though. Even as I revere the beginning of baseball season, I felt a wave of emotion as I put on my glove.
Most of it was awful.
This cheap chunk of leather – real leather? I’m not sure – represents my introduction to a game I love today. It harkens a loyalty to a team and a reliance on hope. For what better an example of hope? A sport that lasts all summer and breaks nearly every heart.
This mitt came from KMart.
In Greeley, Colo., KMart was synonymous with Mexican. That was the store of choice for Hispanics. Our parents proudly shopped there for thrift (if not utter cheapness), while we kids wished our parents would shop where white families shopped.
The Big K shines through
Today, I’d love to find a KMart – with a Little Caesar’s inside.
I blocked out the K in the pit of the mitt with a magic marker. Thirty-five years later, the blank ink has faded. Mom found it necessary to write my full name in the glove. Wouldn’t want my gear confused with that of all the other Eli Pacheco’s in Weld County.
I felt such shame for that glove.
I loved it anyway. To prepare for my rookie season in softball, I had a catch with dad in the backyard. I held the mitt like an ice cream scoop and the ball looped through it and bloodied my nose and mouth. That was my lesson on how NOT to catch.
I carried that mitt to practice for the Greeley Grapes.
The Grapes wore red hats, which made less sense than my disdain for KMart. We played in jeans. A gentle coach with curly hair and plaid shirts coached us. In Colorado, in the 1980s, virtually all my coaches were gentle and flannel-bearing.
That gentle, flanneled season didn’t prepare me for baseball at large.
KC, by default
In Colorado, we rooted for the Kansas City Royals. Well, in theory. All my friends had different favorite teams, but KC was the closest. Many rooted for the Cubs. WGN on cable broadcasting all games saw to that. I never liked the Cubs much.
I followed the Atlanta Braves, mostly because my sister did.
I adored my sister. I felt anxious about my sister. About anything happening to her. So as a result, lots of what she liked, I loved. Lots of what she made, I saved. She doesn’t know that, to this day. But it’s true. I carried the team she showed mild interest in until college.
Convinced I could play a game I loved but had never played, I rode my bike across town to an all-star tryout.
The ‘rents wouldn’t drive me all the way across greater Greeley. So I biked it. I showed up in my mesh-and-polyester red Grapes cap. I toted my KMart mitt. I rode in on a tacky Seattle Seahawks bike, full of hope and covered by my lucky wristbands.
I was, in a word, putrid.
I’d never faced live pitching. In batting practice, I swung and missed. Strapping kids kept their laughter nearly inaudible. Finally, I got the bat head around on the ball. Ping! Ping! I turned on the ball and raised lazy foul balls that didn’t reach third base.
Unworthy glove work
Then came my time to show what I could do with the leather. (Or fake leather.)
My glovework at shortstop (I thought I was Rafael Ramirez) proved unworthy of a blue-light special. The ball darted between my legs. Off my chest. Over my head. Anywhere but the nestled middle of my highly personalized baseball glove.
I still felt like a ballplayer as I checked out, passing the registration table.
Pacheco the man was saying. He wore a jacket and cap that looked 1,000 times cooler than mine. Arrite. Well, son, we’ll call you if you make the cut, arrite? I walked to my bike hoping that something about those foul balls was something this team needed.
I didn’t get a call, not surprisingly.
I still loved baseball. I still remember the day I went to a Denver Zephyrs’ game at Mile High Stadium. Even though catcher Charlie O’Brien was kind of a dick to me and my friends. I still tried out for my high school team – and played on the JV, even as a senior.
That year, I got more hits to the head (two) than actual base hits (one).
I was on the team … barely
And that was in practice. I was lousy. But I was on the team. More than once, I didn’t get in the game until the last out. I was the last out. While my teammates packed their bags with me at the plate, I swung mightily – and missed every time.
The day my dad came to my game, I made history.
I committed two errors in center field. Why I played centerfield that day, no one will ever know. Two errors aren’t comical unless those two errors extend an inning beyond 30 minutes. In North Carolina, that’s a call for a forfeit.
The first, I just dropped.
The second? I got a glove on it on the run but lost it when I slammed into a metal post on the outfield fence. Garinger High didn’t have a warning track. So I got a lump on the head, the runner got a double and two bases on an error. Everyone went home early.
Is it any wonder I love this game?
But, I do. Big. I’d moved on to a big-boy glove by then. A glove I’ve since lost. But that glove caught my first foul ball at a pro game, in Louisville, Ky. It actually bounced off a drunk guy’s chest. His girlfriend asked if she could touch it.
Teaching my girls
The Louisville Redbirds offered to have the team sign it, but I’d have none of that. I wasn’t about to ever let go of that ball.
As a dad, I taught my Hayden to score a baseball game. I caught a foul ball while holding Camdyn on my hip. I took Madison down to the dugout to get a ball from a player. A boy grabbed her catching arm as a player tossed a ball to get it himself.
Madison nabbed the ball with her throwing hand anyway.
Baseball became the staple of the daddy/daughter date. Baseball became the game I taught lessons in perseverance and belief in the miracle amid the mundane. Baseball became a lasting memory of fun with my dad, after all.
I took him to our first pro game.
I bought him a beer. I was 21, in college, and it was the Atlanta Braves vs. the Chicago Cubs. We also skipped work and school for day baseball more than once. And getting tipsy waiting out a rain delay. Those are all awful memories, you know.
As in, I’m awfully glad to have them. So, thanks, baseball. For never losing hope for me.