With the coming of warm weather and new grass in Yankee Stadium, I'm drawn back to the time when I was the world's greatest ballplayer for 47 seconds.
To appreciate how far I had to come to do this, you must know that, as a third-grader in Valley Stream, N.Y., I was thought by my fellow Little Leaguers to have as much of a chance of cracking the starting lineup as the mom who brought the Kool-Aid. I got in games just after the moon came up, when my coach tired of hearing my mother scream, "Play fair. Put my boy in."
I wasn't the Nap Lajoie of the league. I was a righthander too dumb to know I was using a lefthander's glove. I put it on my left hand. The first fly that I tried to catch bounced off my inflexible fingers, and it caught my nose and broke it.
We moved to the Philadelphia suburbs the next winter, and I was a free agent. I practiced by bouncing a tennis ball off the side of the house. When the Narbeth Little League season opened, I thought I could field the best tennis ball on the Main Line. I knew I would get a starting spot, and I did. I was put at second base, where Little League coaches place players who they judge couldn't stop a sentence with a period.
On the day I became the greatest, I was at second. No outs, runners on first and second. The kid at the plate hit a high pop behind the pitcher. I dove and came up with the ball, like Billy Martin in the 1952 World Series. The guy going from second to third froze. I tagged him. Two outs. I stepped on second base out of confused habit and then raced for the fat kid running back to first. I beat him by four steps.
Suddenly, I was hoisted in the air and wasn't sure what was going on. I didn't even score a run. We were still losing 17-0. I realized I'd made a triple play by myself. I'd made an unassisted triple play. I would be in the record books! The umpire autographed the ball. My coach said, "Take it home, son, and tell your parents you didn't steal it."