Way to Go, Chief!

In the spring of 1983, with upstate New York apple blossoms in the later stages of their ephemeral existence, my last year in the Senior Leagues of the famous Little League program—the year that I made the countywide All-Star team—was just under way.  It was to be a great year, and as I recall from a score sheet I still keep in my baseball card collection back in the States (now living abroad), I batted .467 that year, with three home runs.  Not too bad for an erstwhile scrawny kid with thick-rimmed glasses who was to timidly enter tenth grade later that year.

Even though I retain pleasant memories of games over a six-year Little League ‘career’ and a general feeling of times shared with my friends, much of what I recall is vague, and seemingly from another lifetime.  Being 25 years in the past, I have nary an outstanding, crisp, clear memory… except one, and it came from my last year in Little League, that spring.

Whether it was a hot day, a cold day, a calm one, or a stormy one, it matters not, and as for winning or losing that particular game, I have no recollection.  Nor could I tell you whom we played.  However, I recall with absolute clarity what happened when I hit my first over-the-fence home run.

With fans cheering and teammates lining up at home plate to offer congratulations already, I rounded third base, full of eagerness to meet my teammates for my first ever self-induced team celebration.  However, the moment that matters most came when I looked up into the third-base grandstand to see my often-too-strict stepfather clapping excitedly, hooting and hollering, and calling out, “Way to go, Chief!”  Never before had I seen him with so much elation on his face and so much positive energy in his expression, nor had I ever seen so much pride in his usually stoic demeanor and stern eyes.  And never since.  Yet that image from yesteryear, and that sense of gratification and accomplishment begotten by that moment, a moment when I first saw that he was proud of me, will stay with me forever.

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