I loved summer camp. I went for three summers when I was 9, 10 and 11 – overnight camp, eight weeks each time. It was on one of the picturesque Belgrade Lakes in Maine.
You’d think my parents would have driven me from Claremont across New Hampshire and then up to Waterville. Or maybe first to North Conway and then east. That would be a logical surmise, but it would be wrong. No, my parents drove me south, to Boston, and put me on a train at North Station. I have no idea why they did that, and I never thought to ask. Maybe they wanted me to bond with the Boston kids who were on their way to the camp. Or maybe, in those days, it was even harder to go across the state than it is now.
By my first camp season I already loved baseball. My friends and I played it even before the snow fully melted in the spring and well after the leaves had fallen in the fall. I started out as a third baseman, and I told my parents that I was at the “hot corner” (which is how my grandfather always referred to that position). My mother, who rarely got confused and hardly ever bragged about her kids, couldn’t resist telling her friends that her son had picked the coolest part of the field.
I didn’t have a strong throwing arm, and the first baseman, a tall kid from Philadelphia, suggested that I move over to second base. The catcher, my friend Herbie, agreed.
After that first year at camp a relative got me a major league baseball autographed by Billy Southworth, manager of the pennant-winning (but World Series losing) Boston Braves: “To Joey, my next second baseman.” Some of the players also signed the ball, I think Earl Torgeson was one of them, but one day when my friends and I needed a ball I foolishly used it and we managed to lose it.
Life has its disappointments, and mine is no exception. Even worse than losing that baseball is the fact that I didn’t make the high school baseball team. By then the Braves had left Boston, Billy Southworth was no longer managing, and I started to adjust to the reality that I would have to look for another line of work when I grew up. Still, more than half a century later, I have not fully recovered.
A few years ago I reconnected with our summer camp catcher, who had gone on to become a judge in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The first thing I asked was about his later baseball career (he was really good when we were nine), and sure enough, he played in both high school and college. He didn’t ask, and I didn’t mention the fact that my baseball career got cut short.
As for the first baseman, I don’t know whether he made his high school team, and I haven’t seen him since our camp days. But I do know where to find him. He is the Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman.