It was summer and I was ten and twiggy and on a baseball team, the Cardinals, with my friend and neighbor. His dad, Jay, coached. Every practice, every game, Jay drove us in his black truck. Heavy catcher’s equipment and bats tossed in the bed like stones. This was around the time I was being weaned off of Weird Al Yankovic, and instead beginning to hum Michael Jackson and Jimmy Cliff tunes out in right field, a dandelion held under-chin.
The youth baseball season seems endless to a kid generally uninterested. It begins even before the snow has fully melted, when you can still see your breath blow through your glove, and is bestowed no mercy later in mid-summer’s swelter. Shifting weight in the hungry backseat’s heat, black leather on the way to practice, I slowly picked up on a sound that season with the Cardinals. It came from the truck speakers in all different forms: at times defiant, dreamy at others. Mostly, it made baseball enjoyable – out in right field, my lips mirrored the nasally lyrics and the twanging guitar’s gritty smile.
One night on the way back from practice at Page Field, the buggiest of the ballparks, I worked up the courage to ask Jay what it was we always listened to, whose words were making so much sense in my ears. I leaned into the front cabin from the back, asked, and waited for deliverance.
Jay told me, but his answer was drowned out by the very voice he named. I nodded as if I knew and slunk into the heat again. Then popped my head back up. “Who?” Again, Jay told me: nothing but a driving guitar keeping time with the temperature. We were at my house now, and I was supposed to get out. Door open, harmonica rippling like humidity out the sidespeakers, I slunk from the truck. My glove drug like a slug on my hand in the heat.
Walking away, a voice lolled from behind, “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.” Turning, I stuck my head into Jay’s driver-side window and asked him one more time. He told me, and I finally heard Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. They’ve been one of my favorite bands ever since – good ‘ol American classic rock. Here’s a short but sweet one, “Don’t Do Me Like That.” Hope you enjoy.