I can still remember waking up early every Saturday morning in the spring. I can still remember the smell of the grass.
I can still remember barely being able to fall asleep the night before because I was so excited about the game.
At the time, playing little league baseball meant nothing more than putting on that uniform, going to bat and enjoying a one-dollar hot dog from the vendor on Yellowstone Boulevard in Queens.
Now, I realize there's so much more I took away from those years than just quick hands, a closet full of polyester jerseys and a weakness for meat in tube-shaped form.
Most importantly, little league helped form my relationship with one of my best friends, my dad. He taught me how to catch. He taught me how to throw. He taught me how to play the game, in more ways than one.
My dad's older now, and we can't have a catch like we used to, but I'll never forget those memories made and lessons learned on the baseball diamond.
If you played little league, baseball or softball, I know you have these memories, too. The dedicated parents, the friends and, yes, the pizza and hot dogs.
Here are 12 things you'll never forget if you played little league.
1. The sound of the ball hitting that aluminum bat.
Honestly, if I could make this sound my text message notification, I would do it in a heartbeat. Who could forget that ping, which was either followed by someone rounding the bases like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby or someone making a great defensive play followed by a raucous applause?
2. That turtleneck you wore under your uniform when games started in March.
We all had that generic white turtleneck we wore underneath those jerseys, it's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, if it was socially acceptable, I'd still rock a white turtleneck under my shirts regularly. I'm not sure how warm it kept me, but that plus the GAP denim jacket I wore as a warmup top were definitely the little league fashion standard.
3. The smell of hot dogs, pizza and Gatorade wafting from that mysterious metal shack located just outside the fields.
I don't care if you played little league in Queens or Compton, you definitely frequented a vendor dispensing grilled hot dogs, Ellio's frozen pizza squares, Big League Chew and Gatorade. Holy hell, what I would do for a freezer full of Ellio's pizza squares when I get home from a night of drinking.
4. That look on your dad's face when you hit your first home run.
Like I said, my dad was an integral part of my little league experience. I think part of the reason I loved the game so much was because I just wanted to make him proud by performing on the field. I was what you'd call a "defensive specialist" in my playing days, so it was more the great backhanded stop and throw that made my dad smile.
5. The way the dirt would stick in your cleats after a rain delay.
As vivid a memory as the smell of the grass is, I feel like it was just yesterday I was kicking the dirt out of my cleats before walking up to the plate. And it's not just the dirt in your cleats, it's the dirt in your socks and pants after a slide or on your fingers after fielding a ground ball.
6. The calluses you'd get on your hand from throwing a baseball around all day.
This physical ailment is something unique to baseball and softball players. If you've ever played the sports for any extended period of time, you're probably rubbing your fingers now thinking about those calluses of yesteryear.
7. Checking the weather report 15 times the night before a game and praying your game wouldn't be rained out.
When you're a kid, there isn't a whole hell of a lot to look forward to on the weekends other than playing sports. I remember checking the forecast for a Saturday game the Tuesday before, and every day after, and nagging my mom if she thought the game would be rained out. "What do you mean you don't have a crystal ball?!"
8. Your dad rushing home from work on a Wednesday to catch the tail end of those pesky mid-week night games.
At the time, the only thing that mattered to me was looking up and seeing my dad's face in the stands. I didn't think about the eight-hour workday he just put in, or how he busted his ass to get his shit done so he could leave early on a Wednesday to see his son play a little league game. And I certainly didn't think about how uncomfortable it was to sit in those backless metal bleachers on a 96-degree day or in the freezing rain.
9. The butterflies you got without fail in the hours leading up to a game.
From lob ball to the "majors," I was always filled with anxious excitement in the build up to first pitch of a game. That's what made it fun. That's what made it memorable. What's the point of doing something if you're not at least a little bit nervous about it beforehand?
10. Feeling like the king or queen of the world when you found out your coach selected you to play in the All-Star game.
Inevitably, if you were selected for the All-Star game you always ended up going with your coach's son or daughter, but that didn't take anything away from the honor.
11. Posing for that god-awful team picture your parents still have on a window sill somewhere.
Every time I visit my parents, I'm in awe of the fact they still proudly display my little league team photos in their bedroom.
12. The pins, trophies, mesh trucker hats, endless award ceremonies, raffle dinners and the rest.
The more I think about it, the more I realize there are far more than 12 things I've taken away from my little league playing days. I guess that shows how special it was to me. Hopefully, after reading this, you feel equally as nostalgic.