Performer: Stephen Stills
Songwriters: Stephen Stills
Original Release: Stephen Stills 2
Definitive Version: Stephen Stills Live, 1975
I only recently discovered that Stephen Stills Live was recorded at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. I’ve seen several ballets there but never anything that included Wooden Ships.
Stephen Stills Live was the first live album I owned—specifically for Wooden Ships. I have a pretty good memory of things, but if I might wax philosophical (before I wax the kitchen floor), I would suggest that there are four things a man remembers about his younger days: his first car, his first job, his first lover and, if he’s lucky, his first home run. My first home run came on a brilliant Saturday afternoon before I turned 12.
We played youth league games at Northam Park in the heart of Upper Arlington. The park has Tremont Elementary School on one corner, St. Agatha Church and catholic school on another and the Upper Arlington Public Library on a third. The public swimming pool and tennis courts split the non-church portion of the park in half. On one side of the park were the young kids’ diamonds, noted for their single-screen backstops and grass infields. I played there three years. Closer to St. Agatha were the softball diamonds, where my sister played a couple of years.
On the other side were the big-kids’ diamonds, six of them, with their three-sided backstops that included an overhang and huge all-dirt infields. Diamonds No. 3 and 4 were back to back, so if you hit a foul ball in the right direction or had an overthrow at first base (on Diamond 4), the other game had to stop until the errant pellet was captured, as they used to say. Diamond No. 3 was notable also because a huge tree (since cut down) grew out in right-center field. It was a ground-rule double if you hit it, and I saw that happen only once—the game-winning hit in a big game for the division lead that my team lost 8-7. (Ugh!)
Two leagues played on those diamonds back then: The Big 8 and the Big 10. The leagues were so named because of the team names. The Big 10 included the Buckeyes, the Wolverines, the Gophers, etc., and was for 13-14-year-olds. The Big 8 was strictly for 12-year-olds, but oddly, only a few teams had names of teams from the old Big 8 Conference, such as Colorado. My team was Yale.
So anyway, it was on Diamond No. 3 that the magic moment happened in May 1976. We were playing Duke, and I batted leadoff. On the mound was Kurt Seibert, whom I knew from Boy Scouts.
Northam Park had no fences, so you had to leg everything out. Needless to say, home runs were rare, because if you had any kind of size or reputation for power, the outfield could play as deep as it wanted and run down anything that dropped unless you really hammered it. Up to that point, I had hit only one triple and a bunch of doubles.
But on my deathbed, when I recall the 1971 VW squareback (the Fart), bagging groceries at Food World and Beth, I’ll remember that the first pitch Kurt threw me that day was a swing-and-miss strike, one I instantly wished I had back. Pitch No. 2 was a ball outside. Pitch No. 3 was just like Pitch No. 1, and a mighty “Ping” rang out as the aluminum struck the horsehide. The ball rocketed away to deep left-center, and the trajectory was unlike anything I’d ever hit in a game—even the triple.
As I rounded first, I saw the outfielders still running after the ball as it approached the infield on Diamond No. 2. (That game had to stop play for the live ball—always a great moment, because you knew everyone over there was asking, “Who hit that one?”) I raced around second.
Now came the moment of truth. I was coming to third and what was the coach going to do. Was he going to stop me? I felt as though I were running in mud. RUN FASTER, DAMMIT! And then, I saw: OH MY GOD, HE’S WAVING ME HOME!!!
All I could see now was the catcher. Where was the ball? No one was at home telling me to slide or not slide, and if they were, I wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. Our league was formal but not too formal in terms of instruction—heck, they didn’t even allow us to throw curveballs because of worry that it might hurt young developing arms (which, come to think of it, is probably exactly the right developmental strategy).
The catcher was looking out to the outfield for the ball, but he didn’t have enough time, and I sprinted across the plate to make it 1-0. A HOME RUN!! The team swarmed over me whooping it up and patting me on the back and helmet. (As I said, homers were rare and always worth celebrating.) I don’t remember anything except a general cacophony. Making my way back to the bench was a blur as if I didn’t see anything, but I remember clear as day how I felt—complete joy, with a hint of disbelief.
We won the game 7-3, and I got two more hits that day (both singles), so that made my big moment doubly special. When I hung up my spikes a few years later, I had four homers to my credit, and in fairness, I remember them all clearly, but there’s nothing like the first.