When you’re pushing 50, it becomes painfully obvious there is no fountain of youth, no magic elixir that will restore the physical vitality most of us enjoyed as kids.
Last weekend, I enjoyed a taste of the carefree days, when all that mattered was that your bicycle tires had air and you could ride to the nearest game.
Baseball transcends time. Aside from advances in bats, balls and gloves, the game played in the days of Babe Ruth remains the same.
So, too, is the simple enjoyment derived from playing ball.
Last weekend, I was fortunate to be among 40 or so guys who had the opportunity to lace up the spikes and throw the ball around.
The impetus was the University of Maine’s Baseball Fantasy Camp, directed by Black Bears head coach Steve Trimper with the help of his assistant coaches and a handful of players.
Baseball has always been my favorite sport, but when Trimper approached me about attending the camp, I hesitated.
I’m woefully out of shape and hadn’t played baseball competitively since 1977 (I wasn’t very good even then). And you can’t count a pickup game Garland Street Field some 25 years ago.
After a bit of arm-twisting, I agreed to participate.
It was amazing.
While our brains often successfully delude us into believing we’re still young — the old, “you’re as young as you feel” dynamic — the body provides the ultimate reality check.
A case in point: Runner on second, two out and batter hits a ground ball. The runner looks up as he rounds third to see the ball get away from the first baseman.
The mind says, “you can score on this play,” so the body plays along. One headfirst slide, complete with a face-plant into the FieldTurf, proves the brain right — despite a gash on the nose from the runner’s glasses.
Camper Shane Graham summed up that dynamic during batting practice on the first day, pointing out the event starts out as fantasy camp, but quickly turns into reality camp.
Even so, the guys didn’t allow a few aches and pains to spoil three days of fun.
Baseball fosters camaraderie and after only an inning or two, a bunch of strangers were already beginning to come together with a common sense of competitive spirit.
Words of encouragement flowed freely from the bench to the field and back. Guys even cheered outstanding plays by their opponents.
That’s not to say it wasn’t competitive. We all swung the bat wanting to put runs on the scoreboard and fielded the ball as though we needed the out to win a World Series.
It seemed to prove you can take the boy out of baseball but you can’t take the baseball out of the boy.
Some of the little things brought the greatest pleasure: Throwing up a finger after the first out and yelling “one down,” or hustling over to back up a base in case the ball got by.
Hitting the ball with a wooden bat is beyond compare. The sweet sound is surpassed only by feeling the thud of the ball on the barrel and watching it fall in for a hit.
One hit, at least — albeit against “batting practice” pitching.
The best part of the UMaine fantasy camp was being able to enjoy playing baseball with other people who clearly appreciated how impactful it was in their lives.
We all made new friends and enjoyed, after all these years, the thrills of the game that gave us such pleasure as kids. The pain and stiffness that resulted from participating are finally beginning to subside, but the memories will remain.