There was only one boy in the neighborhood taller than I was back then, Clifford Siegel. Clifford was the triplets' age, a year ahead of me in school, and he lived with his grandparents just a few doors down from our home. One day, he stood on the sidewalk, refusing to move as I barreled toward him on my bicycle. "You better move!" I yelled.
"I dare you to hit me!" Clifford yelled back. I did.
I flew off my bike one way, Clifford flew another way. But we both bounced up, dusted ourselves off, and within an hour were meeting up with the other kids at Goddard Field, a grassy expanse two blocks from our homes, playing baseball once again. If we weren't pretending we were Mickey Mantle when we were up to bat, we were Al Kaline, the great Detroit Tiger. Other days, we played kickball, or running bases, or tag, or someone brought a kite and we ran so fast we sometimes fell trying to coax it off the ground. Goddard Field was right across Bancroft Street from the University of Toledo's soaring, limestone Gothic clock tower. We told time by the black hands on that clock; when the hour hand reached six, we dashed those two blocks home for dinner, often to meet again in an hour or so to ride bikes or play another sport, assuming that Dad wasn't home yet and ready to play catch with me.
Professional baseball turned one hundred in the spring of 1969; I turned eleven. We watched the weekly games on TV, but mostly, baseball came into our home through the radio. Dad al- ready had taught me every last detail of how to keep score; then, just in time for the Toledo Mud Hens season, he bought me a ringed, blue baseball score book. I would plug in a radio on the end table beside the sofa in our living room, then close the doors to our family room and kitchen, where everyone else was doing chores, homework, or watching TV. There I'd sit, night after night, by myself, listening to the Mud Hens on WCWA 1230 AM. I had my pencil and the score book on my lap and my wellworn copy of the Blade's special Mud Hens pullout section, with all the players' pictures and biographies, at my side. Occasionally I switched to the Detroit Tigers game on the radio, but even though they had won the World Series the year before, I preferred the Mud Hens, who were the Tigers' Triple-A, International League farm club. They were ours.
I listened to those games from places that felt far away, cities like Syracuse and Rochester and Richmond. I pictured what the stadiums might look like, heard the sounds coming from them through the radio -- one day I was sure I heard a hot dog vendor's yell -- and, for that night, I wished I could be there. Dad soon let me in on a little secret: many of the Hens' road games were recreations. The crowd noise and crack of the bat were produced in a studio, he said, and the announcer simply was reading the playby- play coming over a ticker. Alas, the hot dog vendor probably never existed. I was surprised by Dad's news, but hardly crushed. I began to listen more intently to see if I could tell the difference between a real away game and a re-created one. The big giveaway was the sound of the crowd noise; after an inning in which it sounded the same no matter who was up to bat or what the batter did, junior sleuth that I was, I knew it was fake.