When I was eight years old, my best buddy in the little town we lived in, Parkin, Arkansas, was Jean Crockett, and he and I would play baseball in the summertime from breakfast until dark.
The town had one team and the one thing I wanted in life was to wear the uniform. It was white with red trim, just like the uniforms worn by major leaguers, it was real hot and bulky, didn't fit very well either, but I was very proud of it.
The St Louis Cardinals were my team. It was my father's team and his father's team. When I was a small kid I would go to my grandparents' house. Grandfather's prize possession was a radio, and we would sit on the front porch and listen to the St Louis Cardinals while my mother and grandmother would shell peas or butter beans.
The Cardinals at that time had won more World Series than any team except the New York Yankees. They were always a contending team, always had a chance to win the pennant, and that is what made it fun. They were just a great team to follow.
Stan Musial was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, known as Stan the Man because he was a perfect gentleman, he never argued with an umpire. He was a great role-model for kids.
Some teams in the Thirties were very hotheaded and colourful. One of the most colourful players was Dizzy Dean, an Arkansas farm boy. They called him Dizzy because he talked so much. He was brash and boastful but he could throw a baseball through a brick wall.
I had my best year of baseball at the age of 14. I was playing baseball at a level above everybody else of my age and, looking back, that was really the only time in my career in baseball where I was better than the guys I was playing with. I mean my batting average was above 400, which was pretty good.
At 15 I was good, but some of the other guys were just as good; 15 to 17 were maybe slightly above average years, although my senior year in high school was very average.
I wouldn't face reality. It was difficult to accept my talent had limits.
It was a very precise moment when I realised I couldn't play any more, it was when I saw for the first time a fast ball at 90 miles an hour.
There was a hotshot pitcher who was throwing these fast balls and it was one of the scariest things I have ever seen. A fast ball coming at you looks like a blur, you have less than a second to adjust to it.
The first pitch he threw almost hit me. It scared me so bad, I jumped out of the way. I got up and dusted myself off. I was so scared I could hardly breathe. I went back for the next pitch and the ball came directly at my head, and I dived out of the way again. It was a curve ball; at the last moment the ball snapped and fell in for a perfect strike. By the time the catcher caught the ball, I was rolling in the grass somewhere, and everybody thought it was funny, even the pitcher was snickering. I realised then that I didn't want to play baseball any more.
That was the last time I played, my career was over. A couple of days later the coach called me into his office and said, 'I can't use you', and I said, 'I know', and that was it.
I was very sad because all my life I had dreamt of playing baseball and it was not going to happen. At the same time I realised it was time to get on with life, studying and getting a degree and all that.
I really didn't take an interest in baseball again until my son was born and he rekindled the love for it. He is 10 years old this year. I am his coach. This will be the fourth season I have coached the Little League team he's on, and watching him play now brings back a lot of pleasant memories for me. I had forgot a lot of those memories of growing up with a baseball always in my hand, but as I watch my son it brings back stuff.
One night I walked by his room and he was lying on the bed. He had his glove on and he was throwing the ball up in the air, not thinking about it, his mind a million miles away. And I just froze, because I would do that for hours when I was a kid. He is a little bitty fellow, I don't know what kind of talent he has, he is a little too young to tell, but I thought, 'Man, oh man . . .'
John Grisham is a thriller writer who has books at one, three and four in this week's 'New York Times' paperback bestseller list. His latest book, 'The Client', is published by Century, pounds 14.99.
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