My dad coached a men’s softball team when I was young and I was named the batboy. I was all of about 8 years old, but it was a very defining moment for me. The players were all close friends and they took me in and let me “be one of them.” If you have ever seen “The Natural” and all of the scenes where the batboy is riding on the train with the players, hanging out in the locker room with the players, making a new bat with the famous Roy Hobbs—that was me. They tried to watch their language for the most part when I was around but pretty soon they noticed that I never flinched when they spoke that way so they stopped trying to control it and they just let the words fly. I was truly “in.”
I can recall being close to some of the best players because I admired them so much, but naturally since the batboy sits on the bench between innings, I got closer to the guys that didn’t play much. Most of them were a little older than the starters and were there as backups, praying every night that no one got hurt so they’d never have to go in. They loved the camaraderie and I can tell you they taught me many things—about the game, about girls, about being a man, about girls, about what a great guy my dad was, and about girls.
Well every Saturday, dad called practice in the afternoon at the field by the County Fairgrounds. The guys would take batting practice, shag fly balls and generally just get together so they were all on the same page for the game coming on that Monday night. Dad had a big thing about team harmony contributing to good play. He always stepped outside baseball talk and when the guys “huddled up” before practice was over he always asked if anyone had anything else to say “for the good of the all.”
Typically in that moment, one of the guys might tell the gang that his wife was expecting or someone might have news about a job promotion, etc. They shared those stories and congratulations were passed around. Once in a while, one of the guys would ask about my report card or if I had a little sweetheart or something like that and they’d all tease me—good healthy fun.
I learned a lot in those years. I sort of “grew ahead” of some of my peers because I could take a joke and dish out some pretty good teasing myself. I learned how men constantly and good-naturedly “beat” on each other and how a real man takes all that in stride. I learned it was always good to know the Indians and Browns score from the last game, whether you watched it or not. It was best also to have an idea of why they won or lost so you could have this conversation the next day:
“Catch the game last night?”
“Yeah, can’t believe they blew it in the last inning.”
“Well, when you get relief pitching like that, what can you do?”
“True—ah well, we’ll get the Tigers this weekend.”
As time passed and I grew, I kept that habit about not only sports but the news of the world. Knowing current events and updates made a huge difference when talking to professors and co-workers and especially supervisors. I was a tuned-in guy with some awareness of the world; all good, all good. I learned a lot about being a man and being a “stand-up guy,” too.
I recall one of those Saturday practices, I was standing in center field shagging fly balls with the guys when an enormous dog ran up to me. He was a black and white Great Dane and he had no collar. I was a well-known animal lover and I immediately began to play with him. He was huge! While we were playing, I found a red leather collar lying in the field with an address on the tag under the name “Corky.” I yelled “CORKY” and the dog looked up and came running to me. I held out the collar and he slipped his head right into it. I was so happy he wasn’t lost and my dad was so happy I couldn’t try to make him mine. “But dad,” I said, “We still gotta get him home. That’s his address.”
Well my dad drove a Mercury Brougham that was the size of a small house with interior leather that was so plush, when you closed the door you couldn’t even hear a passing airplane. I brought muddy old Corky to the back door and we were about to get in and my dad said, “Wait a minute.” He looked at the collection of old trucks and vans owned by his players and said, “Anyone willing to take this dog in their car? He only lives up the street.” Well they all started laughing and sure enough one of the guys with a pickup truck opened the gate and said, “Put him back here and have your kid hold the leash.” We piled in and all the men were leaving at the same time, so there was a whole line of players watching this debacle unfold. We pulled out of the lot and at the first light, Corky saw another dog walking by and leapt out of the truck bed as I devotedly held onto the leash and went for a ride. Corky dragged me a good 100 feet before he could be subdued and when I looked up, there were at least eight men holding him down. They had all thrown their cars in “Park” and ran out to save me. Talk about loyalty and brotherhood; my dad and I were so touched. Dad checked me over, only bumps and bruises—I was going to be fine.
Here’s the punchline: One of the players took it upon himself to finish the job and walk Corky the rest of the way home. He went to the door and an elderly man answered and said, “What are you doing with my dog?” The player, Jack, said, “We found him over at the Fairgrounds—wanted to bring him home safely.” The old man evidently shook his head, unleashed the dog and rudely said, “Thanks for nothing boy—that’s where he runs around all day.” With that, Corky ran back towards the Fairgrounds where he had evidently hung out every day. As dad was putting me in the car, Corky came running by the other way. Jack walked up and explained what happened and everyone had a good laugh.
For the rest of the season any time a dog walked by, the guys pointed it out to me and said, “Hey kid—you wanna take this one home, too? Ha ha ha ha ha ha!” The teasing was relentless, but all in good fun.
In the 40-plus years that passed since those days, I finished high school, college, grad school and have held several jobs and raised a big family. Any task that I have been in charge of always includes a little huddle before we start where we kind of set up the plan and I always ask, “Anyone got anything for the good of the all?” It still works like a charm for loosening up people and bringing about camaraderie among the group. And I am a relentless teaser—just ask my wife, kids, siblings, mother, staff, friends—you name it. Life needs a little spice, a little folly, a lot of laughter and the constant refreshing cool breeze that is brought about by surrounding yourself with good people.
Thanks guys—most of which have passed on now—your example served me well. I’ll never forget you. Affectionately—Your Batboy.
Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.