America's favorite pastime

COURTESY PHOTO The author at bat in the old college practice field, circa 1958.

I don’t recall exactly when I started to play baseball. It was a neighborhood thing and likely my older brother Scott took me along to our ball field. It was where Woody’s Trailer Court is located today. We had dugouts for each team or side. Left field was in a gully.  This field had the weeds and “grass” mowed by push mowers with rower blades. I remember being sent to the gully to shag balls. If it was hit into the gully it was a foul ball. If you were a lefty you had more of a field or as a righty you learned to hit to all fields.

Our equipment was pretty sparse. Our baseballs were wrapped with electrician’s tape borrowed from Uncle Johnny. The older Kobriger boys supplied the bats. These were broken and sourced from the Huron Elks semi-pro team. They were nailed and then wrapped with tape. If we didn’t have enough players we played “Work Up” or 500. Teams were chosen and a bat handle wrapped with yours and another’s fingers determined the home team. I remember playing or watching us play the Mencke and Martin team from a few blocks west. We destroyed them, protected our turf and laid down a marker.

The gloves were short and sometimes without laces between the fingers. Used to knock down balls and two hand catch a fly ball. There was this one thing called the Pud. The Pud that we had was a black catcher’s mitt that was mostly flat. You didn’t catch anything with the Pud, you just knocked the pitch down.

Then one day they started construction on Woody’s. We reluctantly moved south and played a short time before we had to deal with Buchanan School being built. So we moved closer to Lincoln Avenue and built a field. We played the Kleinsassers and Koehlers from Jennels Addition. Cripes, then one day they started to build apartments and we were done.

By then we were playing organized city ball at the old Huron College practice field. Doc Shefte was in charge. I recall four or  maybe five fields squeezed in there. If you played centerfield, you were standing beside or looking into the eyes of the centerfielder from another team We learned to chatter. “Hey batter batter, hey batter batter. He can’t hit. Throw it in there.” Pretty salty stuff for the time.

There were the Double H Indians, Zesto Buffaloes, Lions, Bears, Rotary Red Wings and I was a Kiwanis Giant. Each team was issued wool uniforms. You supplied your own belt, stirrups and socks. Gloves were fastened to your belts, you rode your bike with it on the handlebars, Bats fit there too, on an under-over basis.

We won a championship. I remember Dave Kobriger and the Jewett twins, Tim and Tom, on the team. We were invited to wear our uniforms and have lunch with the Kiwanis in the mezzanine at the Marvin Hughitt. I have never forgotten the menu that day: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, rolls with real butter and a scoop of sherbert (my first time ever). My mother picked me up and asked me how it was.  I told her that those Kiwanis men all wore suits with ties and ate their suppers for lunch. At any rate they made me feel like a big shot ball player.

Then we moved to new fields by Washington School. Games were now run by the city recreation department. College athletes that were here in the summer were supervisors. Eldon Haller was my mentor and hero when I played there. “Smitty you can play in the majors if you keep trying. You can do it.” Boy was I puffed up.

Teams were assigned by the coaches. It was fun to hear them call out names and hear your team. Last names first — Ford, Bruce; McAtee, Mike; McEnelly, John; Tredway James; and who can forget the snickers when they called out Chitty, George. I had fun playing there until a kid named Curt Corneilsen learned to throw a curveball. I was stepping back into the bucket and falling down, thinking it was going to hit my head, as it dropped in for a strike. My scouting report suddenly read — kid can’t hit a curveball. I was done and went to work at Harold’s Drive In.
I never stopped loving baseball. I went to many Huron Elks, Stahl’s Flyers and Huron Phillies games. Those rotten Phillie guys took over all the high school girls as they worked at Memorial Park. I wasn’t going to confront Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, Larry Hisle so I suffered my jealousy in silence.

After my Army discharge, I was in Washington, D.C. We had a team until Bob Short moved them to Texas. They were lousy anyway, and I never trusted the people selling concessions. I started going to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. I’d buy 20 games with seats in the “Tomato Patch.” Earl Weaver and Pat Santarone the groundskeeper had a tomato growing contest each year. I caught a foul ball on one hop from Al Bumbry. In the 1979 World Series, I was in the last row of the right field bleachers when Willie Stargell hit what I thought to be a pop fly that beat my O’s that year.

After I moved to Kansas City I attended many games. I got to use the suite of a major railroad and was comped on all food and drink. I went to the 1985 World Series when the Royals defeated those crybaby Cardinals. Thank you, Mr Denkinger, for that safe call at first base.

Now I am relegated to watching games on TV. Most times its a comfortable background to whatever I’m doing. I pick up my interest for the Playoffs and World Series and I root against the Houston Astros in every game.

In all, I think I had the most fun as a kid just playing the game all day until our mothers blew their whistles for us to come home. It was a simple time and we played the game purely for the fun of it.

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