Sports has been a timeline for Christmas

by Gary Shelton on December 26, 2019

in general

Thursday, 4 a.m.

All these years later, all the Christmases that have flown past, the gift still fills my senses.

I remember the feel of it, the smooth leather as it wrapped around my small hands. I can remember the rich smell of it as I would push my face into the web of it. I remember the sound of it as a baseball clapped loudly into it. I remember the feel of the oil as I would rub it into it.

It was a Tom Tresh autographed fielder's glove. If I'm honest, there were other kids who used their own gloves a lot better than I did. But for a kid with a new glove, that's not quite the point. The point is belonging. Without a glove, you weren't a baseball player. With a glove, you had a chance.

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I must have been eight years old, maybe nine, when my father bought me the glove. I loved it. I slept with it. I put it on top of a dresser where I could see it.

I grew up in rural South Georgia. So game tickets were out of reach. No one had a use for a sled -- I had a pair of roller skates that I would ride down a hill until I crashed at the bottom. No one collected autographs.

When I couldn't find a neighborhood kid for a catch, I would take one of my father's old golf balls and bounce it against the concrete steps outside our apartment. But steps being what they are, every now and then, you would hit the corner, and the ball would come rocketing toward you as if it had been shot from a weapon. The sight of me in my childhood had me sporting a golf-ball sized knot on my forehead.

We got footballs, and baseballs, and bats. Later, a tennis racket.

But nothing came close to my glove.

I remember my first electric football game. You know the game. Vibration made the players move, but all of them seemed to move in tight little circles until they ran out of town.

The thing I remember most about electric football is that it drove my father batty. It sounded like an electric guitar stuffed into a wood chipper-- maybe the Strawberry Alarm Clock -- and it was so loud it shook the entire house. I would try to play, and my father would come storming into the room yelling at me. I think it was the reason he bought the darned golf balls in the first place.

Remember Rock-em, Sock-em Robots? I had a pair of those, but I think they were both Chuck Wepner. I had the only toy boxers who took dives. They were never a mainstay at my house.

I always wanted Strat-o-Matic Baseball, but I could never afford it. It seemed so scientific with the dice and the charts and the statistics. I would get stuck with the cheaper spinner games.

Do you remember your first bicycle? My oldest sister had children my age, and they seemed to get everything at Christmas. So one day, we charged into the room. There were two bikes under the tree, and so I ignored them and went to scavenging under the tree.

But finally, my sister pointed out that one of the bikes was mine. It was used, but it was sturdy and shiny. It might as well have been a pony in my eyes.

Later, when I had boys of my own, video games were in vogue, and so we bought a ton of them. But the gloves didn't smell, and the footballs didn't spiral.

There was one game I bought for the boys that I thought was terrific. It was a Nolan Ryan pitching game. You would throw Nerf baseballs at it, and depending on where you hit on the target, it would register a strike or a single or a home run.

The kids didn't really like Nolan Ryan baseball. But I loved it. You could pitch without ever being hit in the forehead.

I remember staying up all night to put together an air-hockey game. I remember hitting ground balls on skinned infields. One day, my wife couldn't find the kids, only to discover them sitting on the the bench at the St. Louis Cardinals when they trained at Al Lang. They were sitting on either side of Ozzie Smith.

I bought my kids game tickets -- to baseball and hockey and football. They collected their own autographs. They grew up well-rounded in sports. And in life.

And so another Christmas has passed. There were no balls under the tree this year, no gloves. Somehow, some of the magic has gone along with them. Oh, we had a terrific Christmas. Aren't they all? We ate too much and spent too much and spoiled each other.

I hope you had a great one, too.

But between you and me, would one little Strat-o-Matic game be out of line?

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