I watched Phoenix, third child of four and only boy of our next door neighbors, throw a baseball against a device designed to throw it back so he can practice catching grounders and line drives and short pop-ups.
I used to do that for hours, only I threw the ball against the cement block basement of the grocery store/our apartment. Hours, I did that. And it paid off.
I played Little League for two years and was all glove/no bat. I should have found a way to practice hitting as well. I played first base and never made an error in two years. I hit about .190, which in Little League really sucks. It was curve balls I couldn't hit--even bad curve balls thrown by 12 and 13 year olds. Throw it straight, I'll hit it. Make it curve, I'm helpless.
The last game of my Little League career, our coach, Jimmy Newsome, was standing with a friend from out of town about 15 feet away from first base, where I was throwing infield to Danny Taylor, Billy Bridgeman and a bully named Donald LaFon. Mousey McCrosky was warming up to pictch. We were behind 8-3 to Gary and our last at bat of the season would follow this inning.
Jimmy Newsome was talking about his team to his friend and since I used to have almost super-human hearing (no more, beloved, no more) I heard everything he said.
His descriptions of us was right on, but what amazed me is how he said it.
"That big bastard on third base can hit like hell but makes up for it with throwing errors," he said.
"That son-of-a-bitch pitching is already too old for little league but he's small and we may get away with another year," he said.
"Bridgeman is a solid player, but the mother-fucker is a show-off,' he said.
"The ass hole on first never misses a play but can't hit for shit."
Over 50 years later I can still hear his comments about us. I thought he loved us. We certainly loved him. My blood ran cold. The game couldn't have been over soon enough. And it was over quickly, three ground balls, two bad throws to first, I caught them all. When we batted, two pop ups on either side of my strike out on a curve ball.
I was 13 and could play another year. But on the way home, I told my father I was through with Little League. He was sorely disappointed since he thought I'd learn to hit a curve ball. Not! But I never told him why. Never told him about how our coach referred to us. My father, after all, was a grown up and I had figured out their was a 'Grown Up Club' that cut each other slack, even when it wasn't deserved.
That day is when I decided to never be a Grown Up like Jimmie Newsome.
I don't think I've ever been.
For that I am grateful.
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