Imagine you're a parent and grew up living and breathing sports. You go to all the games for your city, support all the local professional teams, and can't get enough of it until you have your firstborn son and you get a chance to pass that passion onto him. So you enroll him in a CYC (Catholic Youth Council) soccer program and go to his first game.
You watch in awe as your six-year-old prodigy, the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo, starts making dirt castles away from the play.
That was me. I was that kid. When I first started playing sports, my dad told me I would be running around with my arms out making airplane noises while the other kids were chasing the ball.
Which was strange, to him, because I'd sit on his lap and watch any sports with him all day long, whether it was the Rams for football, the Blues for hockey, or the beloved St. Louis Cardinals, who at the time, were absolutely dominating the league with postseason appearance after postseason appearance.
Around the age of 7 or 8, the flip switched. I went from chasing butterflies on the soccer field to chasing hat tricks and, my dad, seeing the potential for athletic growth, signed me up to play baseball too.
The transition for me was fairly easy given all the running I had been doing in soccer and the number of my times my dad and I would play catch in the backyard after watching another Cardinals win. I knew the game well and knew that I wanted to be a center-fielder, just like my favorite player, Jim Edmonds.
So at that time in CYC baseball, kids weren't expected to be good. They did the whole charade of letting everyone bat, the outs don't really matter and the records didn't either, that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, my childhood best friend and I didn't get that memo.
I remember making diving catches at shortstop, throwing to first base with plenty of time to get the runner, and the fans cheering, surprised by a two-foot toddler actually being able to make a play.
So my friend's dad started a select team the next year, and I found my home in the outfield. I loved running down balls and getting that same surprised reaction from fans and even players who were sure they hit a ball that would drop easily.
I didn't care as much about batting, but that feeling of "yeah, I caught that" was absolutely addicting. I would still go home and play catch with my dad, but if he made the catches too easy for me, I'd tell him to lead me more, until we'd be out there for an hour and a half just working on tracking hard to catch balls at full speed and I'd come inside to deal with the wrath of my mother about the grass stains on my clothes.
I'd go to my uncle's house, who had a desktop computer AND color printer, and he'd let us print out any pictures we wanted off the internet. So I looked up the coolest picture I could think of; Jim Edmonds picking a home run with his backhand just centimeters before it touched down, printed it, framed it, and hung it on my wall.
As I got older, in select ball you got to pick your numbers every year, so I always picked #15. Our team got to walk on the field at Busch Stadium and I kept trying to dig my shoes into the wall to see if I could reach to rob one, I made my first email and made my username twelcher15. Along with playing catch with my dad, I'd go with my neighbors to the common ground in our subdivision and play whiffle ball and every time I went yard, I'd drop my bat and extend both arms over my head as my role model did in the '04 NLCS.
But there's one experience that really stands out.
It was a night game, in between games of a doubleheader, and the field we were going to playing our next game on was absolutely saturated. Our coach could not believe it wasn't canceled, but we were young enough, we didn't care we just wanted to play.
So after my mom got me a Gatorade and a hot dog, I came back and asked one of my teammates if they'd play catch with me for a bit and they said sure. 10 minutes later, I was laying out for balls, getting absolutely soaked with water and caked in mud, without a care in the world. After a while, my teammates joined me in the outfield while one of our buddies launched balls into the atmosphere with only one rule, the catch would only count if you dove to get there.
We called the game "Jimmy Edmonds" and I'll never forget that day or what that game's namesake meant to the development of my love for baseball and sports as a whole.