Relay: Back With the Bridgies

So, what’s it like to set foot in your old school after 28 years?

   The logo of an angry, two-fisted bee on the padded wall beneath the basket was a nice surprise. It put me in mind of the pugilistic hornet on the screw tops of Mickey’s Big Mouth malt liquor, one of which I’d last drained not long after I’d last set foot in the Bridgehampton School — graduation day, 1985.
    I’m speaking here of the Killer Bees basketball game last week against Smithtown Christian. I was there with my boy, Griffin, to introduce him to the joys of high school basketball. I’ve got to say, I could’ve done without the two-cop police presence, but that’s the world we’ve made, isn’t it?
    Griffin had just completed a few weeks of Hampton Youth Athletic League hoops sessions in Westhampton Beach. (Another sign of the times — kids get trophies just for showing up.) He dribbles pretty well, so I have hopes he’ll keep at it. He’s in only the second grade, however, and on this night he was a bit more interested in a can of lemonade from the vending machine in the corridor.
    Next to that vending machine stood another reason I’d brought him: a towering display case of Bridgies memorabilia, going back at least to Carl Yastrzemski. I’d hoped in vain that a plaque from the 1983-84 state championship team, or one from the following season’s almost-champs, might be propped up inside, adorned with a picture showing one pale benchwarmer’s face staring out — mine, as I posed with my hands clasped behind my back, trying to look tough.
    This fall I joked to a soccer mom how my riding the pine afforded me the best seat in the house for those title runs. The point of the exchange had something to do with how certain kids freeze up in the spotlight. Like me. Like a couple of the Smithtown Christian guys who obviously didn’t want the ball. I came to enjoy and look forward to practices, to the point of overhearing the coach at the time, John Niles, enthuse about the progress I’d made. But put me in at garbage time with all those eyes on me . . . it was enough to induce a Jim Eisenreich twitch.
    That progress was lost, by the way, when I declined to play summer ball in ’84 in favor of pursuing my version of Dick Cheney’s “other priorities” — doing absolutely nothing.
    So, what’s it like to set foot in your old school after 28 years? It’s like that Alfred Hitchcock innovation in which the camera zooms in on something or someone while simultaneously pulling back. Time compresses even as the past recedes.
    The school building itself, one imposing brick pile when seen from the street, inside now seemed almost cramped. (To say nothing of that rabbit box of a gym, with the sides of its 3-point arcs crossing over into out-of-bounds.) At the same time, it’s positively unchanged, heavy on the stone and impossibly solid. When that day comes when demographic changes and a shriveled tax base lead to the consolidation of all the schools around here, to take down Bridgehampton’s will require a bunker-buster bomb just for starters.
    I can’t say I saw anyone I knew in the bleachers, though that might have been different if the opponent had been the rival Pierson Whalers, always a hot ticket, instead of Smithtown Christian’s lovable rogues’ gallery of cellar-dwellers.
    The game? High school basketball is barely contained chaos. That was eye-opening and struck me as possibly a newish phenomenon. Each drive to the hoop was executed by a player not really in control of what he was doing, even when he scored. It was close for a while in the first quarter, but the Bees’ pressing D and balanced attack made it a laugher before long. (I know, I know, this hasn’t been the best season for them; the evening’s highlight was in fact the national anthem sung by the Bridgies cheerleaders in four-part harmony.)
    As for Griffin, the more I think about it, the more I think it’ll be okay if the only sport he takes a shine to involves chasing a little white ball around an overmanicured green. Just as long as there’s one sport he’s into. I’m not worried; he’s all of 7 and already a better person than I am — diligent, thoughtful, considerate. Who knows where such attributes come from? If not his mother, maybe the good Lord.
    Of course, as the Bees’ coach, Carl Johnson, would no doubt tell you, the good Lord’s got nothing to do with how hard you crash the boards.

   Baylis Greene is an associate editor at The Star.