Call me old fashion.
A dinosaur who somehow escaped the tar pit.
And sure, I hear the comments. The game is too slow. The pitcher takes too long to deliver the ball. The batter steps out of the box after every pitch. They scratch and spit and argue over every close play. Tied games go on forever.
Some believe football is the modern American pastime. Basketball is all aglow during March Madness. GolfÂ’s crown jewel, The Masters, is going on right now.
I donÂ’t care. When the sun arises in the East each morning, I still pause to count the stitches on it…
Another Major League Baseball season has cranked off. ItÂ’s a renewing for me. A fresh start. A do-over of sorts. Every team and every player has an equal chanceÂ—at least in their own minds.
I believe with all my heart the St. Louis Cardinals are going to win 162 games this seasonÂ… and not lose a single one! This could be the year Mighty Casey doesnÂ’t strikeout. You talk about Â“hope springing eternal!Â”
And as the professional season rolls out, Major League Baseball is not my main focus; or really my passion. ItÂ’s just a reminder of all the good things that once wereÂ…
I can see Ricky Gene Stafford waving that old Rawlings mitt around like he was standing right in front of me. If I pause and turn an ear toward West Tennessee I can hear him challenging the batter, Â“Hit one at ole T.T., IÂ’ll show you some glove work. T.T. will eat your lunch AND your strawberry shortcake dessert!Â”
Ricky Gene was a diehard Chicago Cub fan. Tony Taylor was the CubsÂ’ second baseman and RickÂ’s favorite player. WeÂ’d be in that old field by Bethel College or Brenda EllisÂ’ backyard or the vacant lot over on Forrest Avenue. It didnÂ’t matter to Ricky Gene Stafford; he was going to Â“beÂ” T.T. no matter where the game was unfolding.
I saw John Ingram make a diving catch in deep leftfield that will equal any ever made. I remember Johnny Stoker making a backhanded stop almost behind third base and throwing out the runner by a half step. Deake Bradley almost killed himself running into the chain-link fence behind the football bleachers chasing after a foul ball.
We were that serious.
WeÂ’d meet in any open lot, field, grassy area, side yard or wide spot in the road. There were no parents, no uniforms, no grandstands and no onlookers. If you showed up, you played. We needed every body!
If one or two got to the Â“ballparkÂ” early, weÂ’d play Â“rolling at the batÂ”. If we had three or four, we played Â“move-upÂ”. If we could get eight or so, we played four on four with rightfield designated as foul territory. We didnÂ’t bicker or fight like you might think. Oh, we might argue quickly over a close play at second, but the game was too important to waste time fussingÂ—we came to play ball!
And I prayed every day the game would be tied and weÂ’d play till next Thursday or someone passed out from exhaustion, whichever came first!
We got uniforms in Little League. But they only played two nights a week. Shoot, we could get in a couple of hundred innings a week choosing up sides
I started playing for the menÂ’s Â“town teamÂ” when I was fifteen. Talk about a growing experience! Birddog Reed would play a whole season without striking out. Jim Elliot hit a home run off me down at Dyer that probably hasnÂ’t landed yet! I thought my baseball career (and my life) was over when those folks in Frog Jump stormed the field.
Don Simmons, Bobby Jackson, Larry Ridinger, Jimmy Childress, Buddy Wiggleton, Dennis Coleman, Bobby Brewer, Ricky Hale, Emily Scarbrough, Kenny Butler, Bobby C. and Don Melton, Jackie and Glen Burns, Paul David Campbell…
These are my Hall of Fame heroes…
I havenÂ’t forgotten a single one of them. And thatÂ’s why the opening of another baseball season is so important. It gives me pause to remember.
If you older folks out there put your thinking caps on – I bet youÂ’ve got a similar list. It might be old fishing buddies, a long-ago bowling league or a sewing circle…
For the young readers, I can give you the best advice youÂ’ll ever hear – get your eyes open!
In the spring of 1965, just weeks before our high school graduation, the basketball season had ended and we didnÂ’t have football practice for the first April in years. We were supposed to be, and maybe should have been, leaning toward our collective futuresÂ…Â…but the call was too greatÂ—we gravitated to the field across from the Pajama Factory, chose up sides and went to playing baseball.
IÂ’m telling you, the sky was never bluer, the sun never brighter…