Independence Day

We skipped Montclair’s Independence Day Parade this year for the first time since our kids were infants. But there was one July 4th ritual I would not pass up: Our annual parent-daughter softball game.

I’ve always loved the parade, especially the procession of antique cars and the marching bands. The parade always feels like Montclair’s perfect slice of American pie, transporting my family to someplace like Iowa – as if that state was somehow more American than New Jersey. The kids, of course, enjoyed catching candy tossed from the floats and spraying party string at the firetrucks. But this year, my son, 16, was working and my daughter, 14, was disinterested.

So, no parade.I busied myself with household chores all morning then tried to coax the daughter to join me for the softball game in Edgemont Park. Hanna plays on two travel teams, but on this day she had no interest in sharing the diamond with her dad. I grabbed my glove, hopped on my bike, and headed to the park without her.

Now I was being transported to a different place and time, not Iowa, but Queens, 40-plus years ago, when a kid could ride his bike any weekend to Alley Pond Park and find a pick-up baseball game. There were no parents, no batting helmets, no umpires, and often no pitcher or right fielder. We learned how to make do with what we had. The ball was usually misshapen and covered with tape.

On this Independence Day, I was that kid again, looking for a softball game in Edgemont Park. We played four innings. The girls won, as usual, and Jack the Jackal (mascot of the minor league Jersey Jackals) even showed up from the post-parade activities to cheer us on.

For the record: I flied out to right, was safe on an error, and tore up my left shin stealing third base. But better than that, for those few hours, I lost about 40 years. Just a kid from Queens, out on his bike, playing pick-up baseball. What could be more American than that?

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