Time is of the essence. The crowd and players
Are the same age always, but the man in the crowd
Is older every season....
Fifteen years ago I played my last season of professional baseball for the Clinton ( Iowa) Pilots. It was a Detroit farm team at the time, but Clinton has since become part of the San Francisco organization. It has been renamed the Giants, but it is still in the Class A Midwest League. I've undergone some changes too. Now I'm 38, and I'm an editor who leads the domesticated life of a New York suburbanite—wife, two children, station wagon. But this June I got a chance to go back to the Midwest League to play in a few games as a minor leaguer again and to report on just how life in the cornfields of baseball has changed over the years since I admitted that sliders are awfully tough to hit and that at 24, I was getting too old to play a kids' game.
Within 24 hours after I left Manhattan and found myself trying to squeeze into a pair of double-knit game pants in South Bend, Ind.—home of the Class A South Bend White Sox of the Midwest League—something happened. Something that I cannot account for, something that should never have happened, something that could only happen on a ball field in the middle of America.
Stanley Coveleski Stadium is located in downtown South Bend. You go down Main, make a right on Western, and you can't miss it. In a town with only a couple of multistory buildings, the stadium light standards are a major feature of the skyline. The ballpark is right across the street from Union Station and the rail yard, right next to the old Studebaker plant.
Rick Patterson, the field manager of the White Sox, greeted me, gave me the once-over and told me straight out with his Southern baseball twang, "Don't worry, Rick. We're going to treat you just like any other ballplayer here. That's what you want, isn't it?"
"Then go with Scott [Johnson, the trainer] and get suited up. And stick around for tonight's game. Who knows? We may need you."
"Well, skipper, to tell you the truth," I found myself saying, "I thought that maybe I'd just work out a bit tonight and then shower and go back to the hotel. It's been a long travel day, you know." I winced as soon as I said the words.
"Yeah, sure," Patterson said. "Whatever you want."