Spring – and baseball – fever

With temperatures forecast to hit 60 degrees today, I can’t help thinking about the arrival of baseball season. Sure, many are predicting a lackluster year for the Minnesota Twins, and probably rightfully so. Yet, even if our professional heroes subject us to a mediocre six months, at least there is still baseball itself — a sport that has continued to hold my attention despite inflated salaries, artificially inflated muscles and an increasing number of teams (now 10 this year) qualifying for the major league playoffs.

I think my prolonged love for the Great American Game (I’d love to visit Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark!) comes from the simple fact that it frequently brings to mind memories of my youth, as well as the possibilities it has for my kids — and I, as a father — as well.

I first became really interested in baseball at the age of 9, when I watched portions of the 1976 World Series that was won in dominating fashion by the Reds over the Yankees. As much as I hate the pinstripes now, I loved them as a upstate New York kid who simply had to root for a winner. Plus, the Yanks had such colorful characters  — Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, Goose Gossage and the like. The team captured back-to-back world championships in 1977 and 1978, and it’s no coincidence that during those years I evolved into a sort of savant when it came to baseball trivia.

That was also the era when I played Little League baseball, hitting for an average well below the Mendoza line while developing a somewhat decent glove by my third season. More important than those games for VFW, Dehn’s Flowers and Starbucks Furniture, however, were the contests that took place in the backyard at home.

My brother, Ian, and I conjured up our own fantasy baseball team, but by no means was it the type of fantasy baseball that’s played today. We lived in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and our mythical club was the Saratoga Swans, who played in — where else? — Swans Stadium. (They’d probably now play at Price Chopper — a grocery store chain in our region — field).
The team featured many of our friends, who almost never played in the actual games with us. Instead, nearly all the innings of Swans baseball were played exclusively by us two McGaughey brothers, who took turns playing the roles of our respective buddies at bat and in the field. The Swans, of course, always won, but my biggest source of controversy was the more-than-apparent (to me) fact that Ian always tried far harder when he batted for himself than for anyone else. I was frequently furious when Ian tagged me for a home run; he was not only padding his inflated stats but humbling his older brother.

Still, the Swans provided hours upon hours upon hours of enjoyment — we even went so far as to establish a history of the team and its prolonged excellence in the pretend Junior League. Sean Cohan, who was a couple of years older than I was, was already an inactive player when we got serious about Swans baseball, yet he was the league’s all-time leader in homers and had his number, 3 (what Babe Ruth wore), retired. I was strictly the manager, wore number 1 and had retired early to simply be in charge after a mediocre career as a good-field, no-hit second baseman. I invented a mythical infielder — much to Ian’s vehement protests — named Jose Calinco, who was unceremoniously waved after a few weeks.

My daughter, Grace, has played two years of t-ball, and son Zachary figures to make his debut this summer. What I really look forward to passing along, though, is the Swans baseball tradition. Perhaps the Saratoga franchise can relocate to Worthington and take on a whole new name and legend.

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