Granite State of Mind, #48: Astros Field, Stratham
There's no way that's the real name of it - I just made that up. In fact, I doubt there ever was a name for that ballfield out behind the old Stratham Voc-Tech off Portsmouth Ave. It was a fetid, swampy place, hot and swampy and buggy. (Aside: Why were all my youth athletics plagued by mosquitoes? Between this place and the football practice field in Exeter, it's a wonder we didn't have malaria outbreaks.) It was our place, though, the home field of the Washington Senators of the seacoast Pony League, your Stratham Astros.
For two years I was - somehow - an integral component of a wearyingly medicore-to-awful squad of 14- and 15-year old ballplayers. To this day, I'm not sure how we scraped enough players together for a team, but we managed it. We couldn't hit much, but we made up for that with indifferent fielding. We were regularly feasted on by our neighbors from Newmarket, Epping, and Exeter. What made it particularly galling was how many of those doing the trouncing had just been our teammates on the freshman team in high school. But there was a comic tone to it all, a casual acceptance of our rung on the food chain. I was pitifully representative of our collective impotence - probably more than representative. I couldn't hit water falling out of a boat (in retrospect, getting contacts a few years earlier might have helped), and my offensive contributions consisted of wielding a strike zone small enough to frustrate opposing pitchers. I was fleet on the basepaths, but it's tough to steal first base. The onyl reason I was a mainstay in the lineup was because I'd cheerfully strap on the tools of ignorance and step behind the plate. I was as much hockey goalie as catcher back there, refusing to let offerings from Kevin Kelly or Bill Batchelder or Kevin Murray get by me. We all gave it our best shot, but our first baseman Jeff DiBartolomeo probably felt like a doorman at a busy Manhattan building.
Mr. Schimoler was our laconic coach, cigarette hanging from his lip, filling out the lineup card and then sitting on the bench for another viewing of The Titanic. I don't really know why the other teams were so much better than us, but they were. I remember losing to the Epping team by a score of thirty to five or something like that, and they had this kid on the mound who threw four hundred miles an hour or so. You could hear the ball leaving his hand. You had to swing while he was in his windup. Anyway, it turned out later he had a cup of coffee with the Birmingham Barons, sharing a locker room with Michael Jordan during his brief baseball career (read: unofficial gambling suspension), and being managed by none other than Terry Francona. Ah, stories.
We didn't win much, (Gory Days? Field of Screams?) but we had some fun back there in the swamp.