Laid out on my bed, it was almost too beautiful to imagine that it was all mine for the season: white jersey with a major league baseball logo, matching baseball pants with a real, navy-blue belt, and … most important of all … the stirrups.
It was a far cry from my “Caps” level uniform the previous year: red t-shirt with white trim with “JACK IN THE BOX” in white letters ironed-on at a comical angle by a well-intentioned mom, matching trucker hat, and BYOP (Bring Your Own Pants). Although we lived in shorts year-round in sunny Southern California, one ambitious slide into second on our gravel-strewn basepaths convinced us that pants would prolong our playing careers. One raspberry on the back of your leg was a badge of courage, a second raspberry was stupidity. For me, my only option was a dependable pair of Sears-bought Toughskins jeans, knees reinforced with at least three layers of stiff patches rendering the pants both completely inflexible, yet bulletproof.
But now, playing in the “Minors” I would finally look like a professional baseball player. The stretchy pants had a back pocket big enough to fit a batting glove, a full pack of Big League Chew gum (grape flavor), and whatever candy I could get from the snack shack after the game. The jersey looked like one that a real big-leaguer would wear, not like a craft-store project. But best of all, there were real, navy-blue stirrups.
For youngsters not schooled in baseball fashion history: players used to wear colored stirrups over their white sanitary socks (poorly named – there’s nothing “sanitary” about athletic socks). In the late 1970s, major leaguers yanked their stirrups up above their calves with guitar-string tension, and my baseball cards were a glorious assemblage of baseball gods sporting moustaches and knee-high stirrups. My 9-year-old face might not be able to host a mustache that would make pitchers tremble and 4th grade girls swoon, but my stirrups were clearly ready for prime time.
Everyone in the neighborhood had to know that there was a big-leaguer in their midst. And so I rode my Huffy to my first game in full uniform, baseball mitt hanging from the handlebars and trying to keep my cleats on the bike pedals and my stirrups out of the chain. I arrived at the fields with my white socks dotted with black grease marks, but my precious stirrups escaped unscathed. Undaunted, I continued to wear that uniform every possible moment until the league mercilessly pried it from my fingers at the end of the season.
If you’re complaining about professional athletes who appear not to care about commitment to a franchise or its city, or who have apparently lost the innocent joy of playing sports, there exists in our midst a bunch of young athletes who are thrilled just to wear the jersey. Let’s cheer for them, and celebrate how excited they are just to get the gear.
Parents: force your child to pose for a super-awkward picture on the front steps in their uniform – you’ll treasure that picture forever. Coaches: treat the distribution of gear like a medal ceremony, calling up each athlete one at a time and bestowing upon them the incredible privilege of looking like a real, big-time athlete.
And finally, players: it’s totally normal to sleep in your uniform the night before your first game. It’s absolutely acceptable to keep your uniform on as you go get a celebratory milkshake at McDonald’s after the game. It’s even appropriate to keep your jersey and cleats on as you follow your parents through Home Depot while they start on the home improvement projects they delayed while watching your game that morning. Wear that jersey until you’re sure that everyone knows that you had a game today.
Yes, that jersey means you’re big time. Enjoy it.