Friday, June 11, 2010

It is a small thing but baseball is not right


Little League baseball came to Dolores the first year I was eligible to play — when I was eight-years-old, and about three-feet tall.
Four teams, new uniforms and practice fields ripped out of the alfalfa patches on the upriver edge of town characterized that first season. New dugouts at the high school diamond were built out of plywood and 2” x 4s,” painted with green-colored paint and the floors lined with new sawdust and wood shavings. Most fathers and (a lot of mothers) around town picked up hammer and saw, rake and shovel, brush and fence tool to make that first season happen.
Empire Electric, Nielsons, Inc., Dolores State Bank and others ponied up the cash to pay for the new uniforms, and as a result, had the company logos sewn on to the back. But the new unis didn’t arrive until late in the season, just in time for the parade at the annual celebration. Fungo bats, regular ‘Louisville Sluggers” from 28 to 32, chest protectors, catchers masks, boxes of balls, and ‘special’ gear were provided for from either Howard’s or Jerry’s in Cortez. A concession stand was built and schedule set for parents willing to work it to raise more money for more improvements.
Orioles, Tigers, Twins and, of course, Yankees.
Some kind of draft, based on age, ability, siblings? … I’m not sure what all … was conducted and the aspiring hall of famers donned blue, black, navy or red caps.
I ended up a Yankee, which is good, because my Grandma (who spent a lifetime following Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and the like) always wanted me to be a Yankee. Fortunately, I didn’t disappoint.
Most of us were new to baseball and it showed. Couldn’t hit, couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw, and in some cases couldn’t stay out of the way. That first summer, as an Oriole, I believe, Bill Butler sported one of the meanest, purple and black, puffed-up shiners I have ever seen (before or since) when he caught a pop fly with his eye socket, rather than a glove, in practice one day. Others displayed various ball- or bat-induced maladies as well.
In time, we learned most elements of the game and could put on a passable show four days a week at 5:30 sharp with alternating schedule. It was competitive (It is not baseball without competition) but encouraging, for the talented and others. The older players saw more playing time but rules required that others make an appearance as well.
As an eight year old, I was very fortunate, because or my unique talent, or trait.
Yankee Coaches Earl Carver and Ray Stevinson, must have been James Thurber fans, or perhaps followers of the St. Louis Browns, because right from game one of that season, I found myself not only starting in right field for the Yankees, but in the line-up as lead off batter.
Reasoning was tied directly to the 1941 short story by Thurber, “You Could Look It Up,” and indirectly to the strange case of Edward Carl “Eddie” Gaedel.
Thurber's story was about a midget’s appearance in the big leagues, and Eddie Gaedel gained immortality in the second game of a double header between St. Louis and Detroit on Sunday, August 19, 1951.
Gaedel, who was 3 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds, was the shortest to ever play the game in the major leagues. He appeared at the plate only once and walked on 4 consecutive balls. A pinch runner replaced him on first. His jersey, with the number 1/8, now is displayed in the baseball hall of fame.
Gaedel, who had worked as a riveter during World War II because he was able to crawl inside the airplane wings, was secretly hired by Browns owner, Bill Veeck.
In a promotion for Falstaff Beer, the small player came out of a cake between games and his appearance was first considered a major disappointment until the first pitch of the second game, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell .
“But before Cain could throw the first pitch, the P.A. announcer introduced a pinch-hitter, No. 1/8 -- Eddie Gaedel,” wrote Rovell.
“Umpire Ed Hurley questioned Gaedel's ability to play, but Taylor came out with Gaedel’s contract in hand. Gaedel got in his crouch. Veeck, in his autobiography, said he had instructed Gaedel to make his strike zone as small as possible -- about 1½ inches -- but Gaedel was excited and stood up a bit.Gaedel did follow the other important instruction, though. "Eddie, I'm going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make," Veeck wrote. "If you so much as look as if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead.
"Ball. Ball.
"(Bob) Cain is laughing so hard that he's practically falling off the mound with each pitch," Bill Christine, a Browns fan in attendance during the game, told ESPN.
"Ball. Ball."
According to Rovell's story, all four pitches sailed over Gaedel's head.
That was pretty similar to my experience in that first season in Dolores Little League. Although I don’t think they ever threatened to shoot me if I were to swing the bat.
But they did have extensive instruction on how to tell a strike from a ball.
Baseball is not right, I thought to myself. Everybody knows a man with four balls can't walk.
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1 comment:

Sher said...

I've got to say...you brought back some great memories with this article. I played on the Yankees, but my brother played on another team, I think. I remember, we played with a boy named Richard, I forget his last name at the moment, who was small for his age, but dang that kid could run. He had a strike zone the size of a postage stamp, and I remember he'd get up to that plate and crouch way down. I imagine the coach told him to do that. He wasn't always walked; he took his fair share of swings when a good ball presented itself. And when he got a hit...that boy could run! Fastest little legs I've ever seen. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face and a picture of a red baseball cap into my mind.