I stepped gingerly into the creamy, lunar-like dust hoping to keep my mandals clean. Yes, mandals. They seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, Joyce has a house down the Cape, but sadly I think she’s at the top of the mandal-haters list, at least mandals that even partially expose my “ugly” hobbit-like toes, but that’s not really important right now…
Standing behind home plate where I had for untold innings long past, all the dimensions snapped into focus. It’s funny how every baseball field has a mound rubber that’s 60’ 6” from home plate, yet depending on the park and its surroundings, the distance can seem to deviate. At familiar Moulton Field in Wakefield, all the infield dimensions seem a little smaller.
Maddy and Kyle were with me, but the time warp bubble I was in made me oblivious to Kyle’s boredom and Maddy’s fascination with the lunar surface. Melancholy mused me at the awful condition of the field while I flashed through the years… At age 13 during my Babe Ruth League tryout, I experienced my first bafflement of a well thrown change-up, courtesy of then 14 year old Mike Boyages. On July 3, 1975, I suffered a fractured zygomatic arch, courtesy of some kid from rival Melrose who crushed my face with his knee as I turned to block home plate. Dude was out, but unfortunately so was my eye nearly from its socket. Around ’87 or ’88, playing for “the Highlife” of the Wakefield “Men’s Twi-League,” I blasted a ball into a centerfield tree for a bases clearing double. Yeah, the luck of it was that if not for the well placed maple, my effort would have been a 370’ out… Behind the plate was the place though… Catcher is the best position on a diamond. It’s the only spot where the entire game is in front of you and you’re in every play. I caught a good game, and one of my favorites was another Highlife tilt when I caught a young rookie in his first visit to “the show,” Paul Gonnella. Which brings me to why this 51 year old was standing behind home plate yesterday at Moulton Field.
My peeps and I were there to attend the “Gonnella Family Reunion” at Wakefield’s “West Side Social Club,” adjacent to that park where we collaborated or clashed with base and basketballs. Sadly, number one son (chronologically only the other 4 would strongly attest…) my best bud Michael was stuck back in Arizona and wasn’t in attendance, but Mark, John, Peter and Paul were there. Yeah, that’s right: Michael, Mark, John, Peter and Paul, and saints they were not… Somehow “Mrs. G” survived five sons, well, six including me. I think I ate every night’s dinner at the Gonnella’s during high school… It was great to see Mr. and Mrs. G and my Italian brothers. Mark and I chatted for a while, as did Mark’s wife of 27 years (!!!), Shelley. Yeah, they met during our Arizona days, and aside from a few grays and some crows counting, they both look great. Shelley actually became family when she killed as AC/DC’s bassist Cliff Williams in our “air-band” battles of the early 80’s in Tucson. I made the rounds with all the bro’s and of course my second parents. We all missed Mike, but that didn’t stop any of us from torturing Dillard about the tats, the Harley, the lo-carb diet and the “Ho Chi Minh” goatee… Dude, we only wish you were there for it in person!
I felt so at home. Mrs. G was all over Maddy and Kyle, just like a great grandmother. Mr. G kept calling me “Number Six,” and all the brothers were imploring me to visit them in Miami, SC, Raleigh and even Harwich. It had been over ten years since I’d seen many of them, but it was as if those years were never lost. Although the Gonnella’s are not my genetic family, in this case, Mrs. G’s spaghetti sauce is much thicker than water.