Frederick Law Olmsted's 285 acre Prospect Park has been a central part of my life in Brooklyn Unlike many places that were important to me as a kid, the park is, to this day, a central part of my life here in Brooklyn. As such, it was fitting that I chose to spend a few hours there this morning.
My first memories of prospect park are of participating in soccer with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) as a kid. These games were played in a part of the park called the parade grounds, which were was a series of big fields. We used them for soccer, but they were also used for football and baseball. The parade grounds are divided into four quadrants, each of equal size. There was a field house at the far end where goals were stored. I passed many autumn weekends arriving early to the park with my family to play games that at first consisted mostly of running around the grass, chasing a soccer ball. Later, I played slightly more coordinated games.
was once grass and dirt.
On fall weekends the whole family would pile into the car and head to the parade grounds. Sometimes Eric and I would see each other's games, and sometimes we'd be too busy playing or practicing, but we were all always there, Eric and I playing and my Dad coaching one of us.
Even Mom got into the mix, taking classes to become a certified referee. She would dress in black pants and the prescribed black-and-white striped shirt, and run up and down the field with a stop-watch, blowing her whistle and handing out yellow and red cards to unruly players. I don't have too many memories of my Mom's participation, as she never ref'd my games, that wouldn't have been fair.
When we played AYSO the fields at the Parade Grounds had some grass, but also lots of dirt and dust. When my Dad turned 50 he asked guests at his birthday party to make donations to the Park to be used to re-sod the fields. I'm not sure exactly what the money was used for, but most of the grass and dirt has since been replaced by beautiful astro-turf. Hopefully Dad's gift helped to make the project happen.
Had I been a serious soccer player, I would have played soccer at my school, where there were several teams I could have joined. Had I been skilled, I would have joined one of the prestigious travel clubs in Brooklyn. As it was, I was content to run around in the park on weekend mornings. It was much the same situation during the spring, when I played baseball in Prospect Park's Long Meadow.
If I was a mediocre soccer player, than I was a dismal baseball player. The difference for me, I think, was that I liked running around the soccer fields. But the hours of standing in right field waiting for that one-in-one-hundred fly ball was a kind of tedium that I had hardly known in my whole life. And there was nothing quite as unpleasant the embarrassment of three strikes and you're out, every single time I came to bat.
My Mom recently told me a story that went like this: It was the final regular season game, and my team was down three or four runs. My team was at bat, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. To make matter worse, there are only seven innings in little-league baseball. I came up to bat. Naturally, all of the parents on the team knew that I had about as good a chance of hitting the ball as the US Army had of finding WMDs in Iraq, and everyone started to pack up their coolers and lawn chairs. Well, boy did I show them. I hit what might have been my first and only little league hit, getting onto a base. I eventually scored, and in doing so started a rally that saw us win the game!
Now, keep in mind, that's my Mom's version. I have absolutely no memory of any of that, and as I've been showing you over the past days, I remember a lot of stuff. So did that really happen? Well, I figure that I probably did hit the ball, but my guess is that it wasn't quite that dramatic, nor did it have that much of an impact on the game. My Mom, you see, always liked little-league much more than I did.
I became an expert on Right Field
And cultivated immense patients.
Unlike in soccer, where I'd be on a different team every season, in baseball I played with the same kids every year, so every year my Mom (and Dad) would get to hang out with the same people, who became their friends. Neither of them were involve in baseball in any capacity other than that of spectator, so they were free to hang out and socialize to their heart's content. I sometimes wonder if I didn't keep playing because my parents didn't want to loose that part of their social life. I mean, all I remember now about baseball is being painfully bored. Could I possibly have voluntarily subject myself to that? Who knows.
Other than the tall-tale above, my most prominent baseball memory is of a play book that I was given during the last season I played baseball. At that point I was probably ten or so years old, and I had experienced the full range of baseball experiences, from winning to losing, and standing alone in right field to sitting alone on the bench. but this play book was something new. It was as if my coach had handed a three-year-old a text book for multi-variable calculus. He told us to go home and study it. Yeah right. That was the end of my baseball career.
In addition to its fields, streams, playgrounds, dog runs and woods, Prospect Park also has a 3.33-mile loop of tarmac perfect for bike racing. The road is closed to vehicles almost all day, aside from rush hour during the work-week. Most of the time, us cyclists from Brooklyn, from recreational riders to families to racers, can train for our sport, undisturbed by cars. And on weekend mornings during the summer, it is ours for racing.
I did my first bike race in the park when in high school, and it didn't go well at all. Five years later, I'm still racing there, almost every weekend this past summer, and have even come close to winning races there (second has been my placing so far). Races always start at 6:30... and I thought 8 was early. In addition to racing on the weekend, I also train there almost every day that I'm in Brooklyn. Today was likely my last ride in the park for quite a while.
See me? I'm third wheel.
Three laps to go!
At first the park was a place to go to be alone, to blow off steam. Later it became a place to meet other cyclists, and in recent years, it became a place to meet friends, and catch up and check in. There's lots of great riding in Saratoga. there are rides on which I could do 5000 feet of climbing over 60 or 70 miles, without ever once riding on the same road twice. But there is nothing quite like the social scene of Prospect Park, where no matter what time you show up, from 5 in the morning until 9 at night, you're always guaranteed to run into somebody else, doing the exact same thing you are: riding in circles. Of all of the time I spent in that park, that's which I'll miss the most.
I've got so many great memories from Prospect Park. And they don't all have to do with sports. I went sledding there, and I went on picnics there. I shopped at the farmer's market and I went roller blading there. One experience, however, cuts through all of the ways I experienced the park: It was always fun, even when I was picking daisies in the outfield.
Well, that's all for tonight. I talented young woman that I graduated from high school with is on a major NBC drama right now, so I've got to go watch, then it's back to packing. I'm going to be pretty busy for the next couple days, so I'm going to have to put the memory lane series on hold until the dust settles. In the mean time, I'll try to post some pictures of my new place! Stay well!