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Crack of the bat sparks memories

Published March 22. 2014 09:00AM

There are four seasons to a year, but there are also many more, defined by sights, smells and sounds instead of a calendar. There are the seasons of woodstove smoke, wild onions, raining yellow leaves, geese calling at dawn and dusk, construction crew hammers, burgers on a grill, lawnmowers, and the sizzle of soft snow.

And the sound of a baseball against a bat.

I heard that sound Sunday, far away, but still it took me back to grade school. I remembered cutting between houses after supper, headed for home because my dad had blown a whistle from the front porch, the signal to get home within five minutes.

On the way through the neighborhood yards, there would be the sound of baseball announcers coming through the window screens. It seemed that all our dads were Phillies fans and so we followed their lead.

I picked a favorite player, Jim Lonborg, and proudly wore a Phillies shirt with his name and number, 41. One day, as I pedaled my yellow Stingray bike home from the pool, wearing my Lonborg shirt, some people pulled over in their car to talk with me.

They were strangers, but those were simpler times, and we talked.

Incredibly, they said they knew Jim Lonborg; in fact, they vacationed with his family in Beach Haven, N.J. They wanted to know who my parents were and said they would arrange for my family to go to a Phillies game, where they had season tickets for box seats, and meet him.

I set land speed records for Stingray bikes for the next four blocks. I raced into the house and blurted out the story. I'm not sure if my parents believed me, but the people called that very night and the plans were made.

I can't tell you who won the game, or even, who the Phillies played that day. I can tell you that a woman representing the Phillies met my family, and then she took me on an elevator to a room where I met Jim Lonborg.

I remember feeling incredibly shy, so shy I could barely look up at him. But he shook my hand, and I got to hang out with him and some Phillies pitchers and catchers in the bullpen, even after the game started. Somewhere during the early innings the same woman returned and escorted me back to my family.

Jim Lonborg pitched for the Red Sox, helping them nearly win a World Series, before breaking his leg skiing, and getting traded to the Phillies, where he had winning records for several years. He and his wife adopted two Vietnamese children. After retiring from baseball he worked as a dentist in Massachusetts, and did commercials speaking out against chewing tobacco.

But unless you're a Red Sox or Phillies fan, you may never have heard of Jim Lonborg. But when I heard that distant sound of a bat hitting a baseball, I instantly remembered as I always do that day when a professional baseball player was so incredibly kind. He's the reason that sound will always be for me the symbol for a season of hope and promise, and the prompt for fond memories of a simpler time, when our heroes did not disappoint us.

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