Pentagons in Nostalgia

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If there is one thing that the recent movie Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice has done for me, it is to take a trip down Nostalgia Lane, where I come to its intersection of Inconceivable Road, where I turn to see myself as a baseball player, dashing off in my pale blue cap that is far too big for my head, as I join a group of faceless teammates for a game of Tee-Shirt that I’d never have considered in a million years.

Although I can remember a number of the kids on my Little League team, who I played with from the ages of 8 through 11, I remember only one kid from my Tee-Shirt League: Matt. We were not close, Matt and I, but we did play together, and we had the occasional child version of a fancy discussion. Probably about toys or comics or the cartoons we were watching at the ripe old age of 8. Perhaps the most important reason I remembered his name so well was because he was something of a celebrity to the children of Williamstown in the 1980’s, at least to anyone as wholly immersed in Fantasy and Science Fiction as I was. The reason for this was that his last name was Reeve.

To those who are old enough, Matt’s family name might mean something. You might hear it and think, “Wasn’t there someone famous with the last name Reeve? Oh yes! Christopher Reeve the actor! But there can’t be any connection between Christopher Reeve and this Matt kid, can there?” As a matter of fact, there was. Long before Bryan Singer ever considered giving the Man of Steel a son in a sequel to a film over twenty years old, I actually met and got to play baseball with Matt, the real son of Superman.

But just because I got to know the son didn’t mean anything regarding the father. Every summer, my hometown hosted The Williamstown Theater Festival, which draws in some impressive thespian names like Paltrow, Danner, Long, Allen, Gasteyer, Nixon, Banks, McKean, Weaver, Walken, among countless others. Chris Reeve was one of those big names in acting who frequented the place, and if you were strolling around Spring Street on a warm summer day, breathing in the rich mountain air of the Berkshires, you just might be lucky enough to encounter one of these faces getting a haircut at St. Pierre’s or the Clip Shop, or grabbing one of Papa Charlie’s amazing sandwiches.

Because I lived a whole five miles from downtown, in a place called South Williamstown, I had little means to go downtown, and my parents were never much for plays, so that meant that any dreams I had of meeting and schmoozing with celebrities were outright dashed. I guess, in retrospect, it was fortunate that I had little knowledge of the amazing talent my little hamlet brought. I imagine I would have become a bothersome boor of nagging to my parents had it been otherwise. So, yes, fortunate – for my parents.

Tee-Shirt League, however, was one element that brought me into town with some regularity. Less than a mile from Spring Street, where the stars wandered, was the Williamstown Elementary School, where there was not one, but two baseball diamonds that we could play our games on. Games were essentially little more than sheep herding of the various players. Some players were more into the sport than others and they resolved the distracted madness of childhood by shouting directions to everyone else. These commands were things like “Barney, stop picking your nose!” or “Sarah, stop talking to Julie and get in position!” or “Ashim! You can play on the swings after we’re done!” The other thing these junior professionals did was to make sure the pitcher’s directions were followed. The pitcher was an adult (usually the coach), while the other eight random players were the kids. Then, once the field was arranged more-or-less to the coach’s desires, he or she would then pitch underhand to the batters.

Baseball is baseball, so while the action happened infield, which was sometimes a little too exciting, the outfield was a place of dullness. Sometimes there would be a grounder that slipped through the – admittedly large – gaps in the infield or pop fly that added excitement to the endless field of green, but there is generally a whole lot of standing around. When the third out is called, however, that is when things get exciting, because it meant at bat.

When a baseball team is at bat, it seems the whole world comes alive. For us in the league, we’d cheer on each batter with gusto as they grabbed an aluminum bat, give it a few test swings and then go up to the plate and into position. There, these mighty champions had at least three chances to knock the white leather-covered ball out of the park and drive a point home for the team. At bat was each player’s chance to become a superhero that could lead our team to victory.

So imagine, then, an eight-year-old boy going up to bat, getting into position, and looking up at the pitcher, only to be blinded, as I was, in the brilliance of the one and only Superman.

There he was, not in his Clark Kent guise, but in his Christopher Reeve guise. The square jaw, the thin lips limned into a small smile, the sharp narrow nose, the piercing blue eyes and towering six feet four inches of muscle and heroism. I was a little kid staring into the face of the psychical embodiment of truth, justice and the American dream. The man from the movies stood before me, and I was dumbstruck. Staring at this mountain of an ideal, I couldn’t make sense of the world. Where was his blue suit? Oh yeah. Of course, he was in disguise. That made sense. Where was Lois Lane? Off on a journalist’s adventure, no doubt. Were we in any danger from Lex Luthor or Solomon Grundy or Bizarro? I hoped not, but considering the way he was smiling at me, I was certain we were safe. After all, we had never been attacked before, and besides, what would his rogue’s gallery want with a sleepy little town a three-hours’-drive from anywhere?

As I stared, I noticed that his mouth was moving. Something was coming out. Was he getting ready to turn me into a Popsicle with his ice breath?

“Robbie!”

I turned. My coach was calling me.

“Are you ready?”

It took a moment for me to remember that I wasn’t caught up in a comic book or a big screen adventure. I was simply a boy holding a metal bat next to a rubber pentagon. All around me, the other kids and their parents were smirking or outright laughing at some kid who got a little lost in his imagination. Matt was rolling his eyes, as if to say, “Come on, man. It’s just my dad.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, trying not to look at my hero, embarrassed half to death. Jimmy Olsen wouldn’t have forgotten who he was, nor have been half as star-struck as I was.

“It’s alright,” my hero’s rich tenor called back. He was giving me an indulgent smile, the kind, I’m sure, that he wore a lot with his fanboys and fangirls. “Are you ready to play some baseball?”

“Yes, sir,” I said with more enthusiasm than I felt. To be honest, I wasn’t ready to play baseball, not then. I wanted to shake this man’s hand and thank him for everything that he did for me and for the world. I knew he was only an actor, but he transcended that: he was  the hero he played in the movie, in the kind way that only Christopher Reeve could be. The man was inspiring and beautiful and wonderful. He was a living embodiment of what could be done with human hands. In the movies, I saw him fly, a feat that opened doors to possibilities that I could scarcely consider. But in his own life, the life of Christopher Reeve, he was an inspiration both before and after the accident that left him confined to a wheelchair. This man was a beacon of hope and inspiration that anyone could rally behind. And he was pitching to me.

After the game, I got to see him hug his son and I burned with envy for my friend. It didn’t last long, though. As I watched these two, I realized that the love the pair had for each other was the same that I had for my own parents. It was strange then to see the hero for the man he really was. It was something that perhaps my writing doesn’t always show, yet – the humanizing fact that every hero is just another man or woman who has to do what they have to do – but it was an epiphany that has helped to make all the interactions of my life a little more meaningful. In their own way, each person out there could one day stand tall as the ideal that could inspire others to believe that a man could fly.

As I walked away from the field that day, my parents asked me what it was like to have Superman pitch for me. I couldn’t lie.

“That was the coolest thing ever.”

 

 

 

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