Man, it's tough to find a good barber. I've lived in the Bronx for three years and I am still having issues. When I have the time, I still travel two plus hours round-trip on the subway to see my old barber in Brooklyn.
This past Saturday I figured I would try a joint that I spotted on Broadway and 240th street. This is a few blocks from the end---or the begining---of the IRT, Broadway local 1 and 9 trains. Manhattan college is a short walk up the hill, and even further up the hill is Riverdale, where I now live. There used to be a row of bars on Broadway, but there was constant trouble between the locals and the college kids; things got nasty at one point and the city shut many of the places down.
As I walked from my neighborhood down the hill, I day dreamed about the coming playoff games at the Stadium. At one point, I took a short cut through the woods. (This was the first time I made the trip, so it felt like an adventure.) When I got to the bottom of the hill, I noticed a young kid with a Yankee cap, and a mitt, having a catch. I couldn't see who he was throwing the ball to at first, and when I got closer, I realized he wasn't having a catch with anyone: he was pitching the ball against a big tree.
He was a thin, fair-skinned kid with bright eyes. He missed the tree, and as he went after the ball I called out to him. "Getting ready for the playoffs?" Indeed he was. We chatted for a few minutes. He told me that he favorite pitcher was Mike Mussina and that Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano were his favorite players. I asked him a few more questions. It's amazing how a kid's face will light up when you aske them what they think.
I didn't want to make him feel strange, so I kept the conversation brief and continued on, walking past the train yards, down to the barber shop. The moment I walked in, I knew I was in the right place. A black guy and a big Latin guy were cutting heads; hip hop music was pounding on a stereo.
I had a nice conversation with big Looie, and he gave me a good buzz. I don't need to go to Brooklyn anymore.
On the way home, my new friend was still pitching. I saw him wind up and miss the tree once again. Got to work on his control, I thought. When I reached him, he was poking around the woods, looking for the ball---an old, muddy ball. God, that brought me back. How familiar was that sight?
I couldn't resist, so I asked if I could have a catch with him. We hung out for about fifteen minutes and talked a lot about baseball. I obviously didn't have a glove, but that was OK. He was careful not to throw the ball too hard, and each time he made a poor throw he follwed it with an immediate apology as he ran after it. He was 13 years old, and plays center field. But he wants to be a pitcher. I told him about some of the pitchers I like and asked him a lot of questions about who he likes, and why.
I could tell he was energized by our conversation and that made me feel good. I felt boss about making a connection with a kid, and I felt good that it clearly meant something to him as well.
Baseball doesn't seem to matter to kids the way it used to. At least white and black kids. (I was spoiled living in a Dominican neighborhood for three years.) But if you look hard enough, you'll still see the die hards playing whiffle ball with tied up socks, or a ball of tin foil. Or you'll see a kid pitching by himself on a Saturday afternoon, gearing up for the playoffs.
As I walked away, back through the woods, I heard the ball miss the tree again and crunch through the leaves. The air was getting crisp, and the fall is almost here. He may keep missing for a while, but he's showing up. And that's a beautiful thing.