The great Joe Posnanski recently wrote a blog post one of the first great book he ever read, The Kid Who Only Hit Homers. I often relate to a lot of what Mr. Posnanski writes about, but this was other worldly… that was also the first great book I ever read.
I remember the story exactly. I went to the Midland Park (New Jersey) Public Library. The children’s section was downstairs. The shelves were lines with books. There were so many that I didn’t even know how to begin looking for a book or what I even wanted to read. To be honest, I don’t even remember why I was at the library, maybe my mother brought me there, but the task of finding anything in this warehouse of books was too overwhelming. I didn’t even know where to start.
I sort of remember asking the librarian for help. She asked me what I liked. Now, that was easy. I had only one answer – “Baseball.” The librarian then led me to the Matt Christopher section of books. “You’ll like these,” she said. I believe she even handed me The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, if not, that was the book I found and took home.
I loved that book. I read it cover to cover. It’s the first real book I ever remember reading. (The first book I ever read was the classic Crash!, Bang!, Boom! but that was just pictures and sounds put together. I do remember looking at some of the illustrations, making the sounds in my head and realizing that the letters corresponded to the sounds. That is how I first learned to read.)
After reading The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, Matt Christopher became my first favorite author. I read many more of his books, but I don’t really remember any of the others. It was the first one that left an impact. I’ll forever love The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.
I loved that book so much that when my best friends and I created imaginary baseball teams that played in my back yard, I chose the main character from the book, Sylvester Codmyer, as my right fielder. (Matt Christopher spelled his last name differently. I attribute this to my poor abilities as a kid to make the effort to spell anything correctly.)
When we played, we’d assume different batting stances for each player. Over time these guys developed characteristics. We’d talk about them as if they were real baseball players. We kept their stats. I drew pictures of them and made baseball cards for them. (This was one serious Wiffle Ball league.)
But Codmyer was the (imaginary) player I loved the most. He batted fourth and I always gave just a little more effort when he was up. I know that he led the “league” in home runs and that he became the All-Time Home Run King.
All because of a book…and a smart librarian who knew how to get a little boy excited about reading.
With this memory of a book that impacted me as a child, I started to think back and try to recall the imaginary players that were part of my youth; the stars on my Wiffle Ball team some forty years ago. I wondered if I could still recall the heroes of a young boy’s over-active imagination…
And it proved to be all too simple.
It’s funny, I haven’t thought about these guys in ages, but I guess I’ll never forget them. in a way these guys were as much my baseball heroes as Nettles, Munson, Reggie, and Guidry. I once had a Wiffle Ball signed by all of these legends. (The pretend guys, not the real-life Yankees.)
The New York Red Birds
P – Righty Henderson
C – Lefty Johnson
1B- Jim Friendly
2B – Shawn Maloney
SS – Jim Duffy (He was a switch hitter, which was funny because the only kids I knew threw right-handed.)
3B – Sid Grayson (I am quite certain I got his name out of a children’s book as well, but I’d be darned if I remember which one. I knew I also had book by John R. Tunis, The Kid Comes Back, but for whatever reason I could never get into it. The story proved elusive to me. I tried to read it countless times but never got past the first few pages.
LF – Sam Wings (He batted like Reggie Jackson)
CF – Joe Glass (He batted like Oscar Gamble)
RF – Sylvester Codmyer (He batted like me.)
When we played Wiffle Ball, I was, of course all the players, but I think I was mostly Sylvester Codmyer.
The fact that I remember all of this makes me think that maybe there is still a (big) part of me that never really wants to grow up.